August 5, 2013
This responds to your inquiry (12-156) asking if you may participate in a not-for-profit organization’s training academy planning group. The academy has been providing training to mental health providers and now seeks to expand its audience to teach lawyers (defense, prosecutors, probation department, court). The goal is to educate lawyers on all sides of a criminal case about mental illness and the mental health system. You have indicated that the planning group includes prosecutors, defense attorneys, and attorneys from Mental Hygiene Legal Services and certain not-for-profit medical centers, in addition to judicial member(s).
All judges must 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 impartiality (see 22 NYCRR 100.2[A]). Judges may engage in extra-judicial activities that do not cast doubt on their capacity to act impartially as a judge; detract from the dignity of judicial office; or interfere with the proper performance of judicial duties and are not incompatible with judicial duties (see 22 NYCRR 100.4[A]-).
The Committee previously has advised that a judge may serve on a local criminal justice council designed to “maximize resources resulting in an enhanced criminal justice process” where the council membership includes representatives from all aspects of the criminal justice system and the council will not appear in court on behalf of any parties or act as an advocacy group on behalf of any one involved in the criminal justice system (see Opinion 12-70). A judge also may join an organization devoted to improving the legal system’s handling of domestic violence matters that includes representatives from local police agencies, the District Attorney’s staff, the Public Defender’s staff, social service agencies, Family Court Representatives, and several judges (see Opinion 95-34). In both situations, the balanced membership helps ensure that the judge’s participation will not cast reasonable doubt on the judge’s impartiality (see 22 NYCRR 100.4[A]).
Similarly, you also may participate in the not-for-profit organization’s training academy planning group as the information you provided is that the planning group members and intended audience for any education program will be balanced.
I have enclosed Opinions 95-34 (Vol. XIII) and 12-70 for your convenience.
Very truly yours,
George D. Marlow, Assoc. Justice
Appellate Division, First Dept. (Ret.)