December 8, 2011
Digest: A judge should not agree to meet only with the state police to discuss what the state police perceive to be excessive overtime expenses for their troopers who appear in the judge’s court, but the judge may meet with representatives from law enforcement and members of the criminal defense bar for this purpose and may consider law enforcement’s needs and interests as factors along with those of defendants, their attorneys, witnesses and the court’s limited resources when considering any requests for administrative changes.
Rules: 22 NYCRR 100.2; 100.2(A); 100.2(C); 100.3(B)(7); 100.3(C)(1); Opinion 09-160.
The inquiring judges advise that a state police official has asked for “a meeting” to discuss “what the [s]tate [p]olice perceive to be excessive overtime expenses for their [t]roopers relative to vehicle and traffic offenses before [the judges’] court.” The judges ask whether such a meeting is ethically permissible. The judges further ask for “some guidelines” on how a meeting about this topic can be accomplished in compliance with their ethical obligations.
A judge must always avoid even the appearance of impropriety (see 22 NYCRR 100.2) and must always act to promote public confidence in the judiciary’s integrity and independence (see 22 NYCRR 100.2[A]). Therefore, a judge must not convey or allow others to convey the impression that they are in a special position to influence the judge (see 22 NYCRR 100.2[C]). In addition, a judge must dispose of all judicial matters promptly, efficiently and fairly (see 22 NYCRR 100.3[B]) and must diligently discharge his/her administrative responsibilities without bias or prejudice (see 22 NYCRR 100.3[C]).
The Committee has consistently advised that judges may not compromise their ethical obligations to mitigate the challenges that prosecutors or law enforcement officers face (see Opinion 09-160, citing prior opinions). For example, it is ethically impermissible for a judge to allow state police to determine trial dates in vehicle and traffic law cases to avoid incurring overtime costs associated with court appearances by state troopers (see Opinion 09-160).
Under the circumstances presented, the Committee believes that the inquiring judges should not meet with the state police to discuss what the state police perceive to be excessive overtime expenses for their troopers, unless representatives of the criminal defense bar are also present.
Thus, the judges may hold such a meeting if members of the defense bar who appear in the judges’ court as troopers’ adversaries also attend to represent the defense’s perspective. Nevertheless, the judges should bear in mind that they may not “allow the state police to determine or otherwise actively assist the court in scheduling trials that involve state troopers” and that they should not permit law enforcement interests to be “the sole determining factor” in any requested administrative changes (Opinion 09-160). Rather, they may consider law enforcement interests as one factor along with the needs of defendants, their attorneys, witnesses and the court’s limited resources when considering any requests for administrative changes (id.).