December 11, 2014
Digest: A judge may not serve as a mentor to a teenager who has recently appeared before the judge as the respondent in a Persons in Need of Supervision truancy proceeding.
Rules: 22 NYCRR 100.2; 100.2(A); 100.2(B); 100.3(A); 100.4(A)(1); 100.4(A)(3); Opinions 10-34; 09-11; 92-75 (Vol. IX); 91-132 (Vol. VIII).
A Family Court judge asks if he/she may become an “informal mentor” to a teenager who has recently appeared before the judge in a Persons in Need of Supervision (PINS) truancy proceeding.1 The judge states that “[f]act finding was recently resolved with an admission by the respondent,” and proposes to “immediately forward the case for reassignment and disassociate myself from any further proceedings, both on a formal and informal basis.” The judge believes his/her personal guidance and social support as a mentor would be helpful for this particular teenager, and notes that he/she has maintained a positive relationship with another individual in a mentorship role for over 15 years.
A judge must always avoid even the appearance of impropriety (see 22 NYCRR 100.2), must always act in a manner that promotes public confidence in the judiciary’s integrity and impartiality (see 22 NYCRR 100.2[A]), and must not allow family, political or other relationships to influence the judge’s judicial conduct or judgment (see 22 NYCRR 100.2[B]). A judge’s judicial duties take precedence over all of the judge’s other activities (see 22 NYCRR 100.3[A]), and therefore a judge must not engage in extra-judicial activities that “cast reasonable doubt on the judge’s capacity to act impartially as a judge” (22 NYCRR 100.4[A]) or “interfere with the proper performance of judicial duties” (22 NYCRR 100.4[A]).
The Committee has previously advised that a judge may not rent an apartment to a litigant who is currently before the judge, even where the judge’s intention is to rent the apartment “at less than fair market value” to help “protect the litigant from the onerous terms of the proposed partial liquidation of a structured settlement annuity” (Opinion 10-34 [noting that the litigant had come to court seeking approval of the proposed liquidation]). A judge also may not accept an invitation from the child of two murder victims to attend “a luncheon to thank friends and neighbors for their love and support,” where the judge presided over the trial over a year ago (Opinion 91-132 [Vol. VIII]), or agree to meet with a crime victim after a concluded criminal trial “in order for the victim to speak to the judge about the history of abuse he/she experienced before the trial and to thank the judge for considering the victim’s views at the time of sentencing” (Opinion 09-11). In each of these instances, the Committee concluded that the judge’s proposed personal interaction with a litigant concerning the subject matter of the case that was (or had been) before the judge would, at the very least, create an appearance of impropriety (see Opinions 10-34; 09-11; 91-132 [Vol. VIII]).
Here, too, the proposed mentoring relationship, although well-intentioned, would create an appearance of impropriety (see 22 NYCRR 100.2[A]). It would directly interfere with the proper performance of the judge’s judicial duties, in that it would require the judge to disqualify him/herself from a specific pending matter which is properly before the judge (see 22 NYCRR 100.4[A]; cf. Opinion 92-75 [Vol. IX] [suggesting that judges have “a duty to sit where not disqualified”]). It could also potentially cast doubt on the judge’s impartiality in the present truancy proceeding (see 22 NYCRR 100.2[A]; 100.2[B]),2 or raise questions about the judge’s ability to be impartial in PINS cases generally, as other alleged truants might reasonably fear the judge was, in effect, biased against them because he/she did not offer to mentor them (cf. 22 NYCRR 100.4[A]).
Accordingly, the Committee concludes the judge may not serve as a mentor to a teenager who has recently appeared before the judge as the respondent in a PINS truancy proceeding.
1 The judge explains that he/she “would not perform as a mediator, or in any representative capacity nor under the purview of any agency or service provider.”
2 For example, the public might question whether the judge’s decision to resolve factual issues by accepting the respondent teenager’s admission was influenced by his/her desire to establish a mentoring relationship with the teenager.