Opinion 16-145

December 13, 2016


Dear :

         This responds to your inquiry (16-145) asking whether a county Magistrates Association may, as requested by the bar association and the county executive, comment on the bar association’s proposed assigned counsel plan before it is implemented by the county.

         The Committee has previously noted “that the judiciary is responsible to protect and ensure the constitutional right of indigent criminal defendants to competent representation, [and] judges are uniquely positioned to give valuable input on such issues” (Opinion 08-215). Thus, the Committee has previously advised that a judge may serve on a county government-sponsored committee to explore the issue of an assigned counsel system, public defender system or hybrid system to represent indigent defendants in the county (see Opinion 08-215). Similarly, the Committee has previously advised that town and village justices may, at the invitation of county legislators, publicly address the County Legislature regarding their view of the indigent defense services provided by the County Public Defenders Office (see Opinion 07-124). Accordingly, the Magistrates Association may comment on the bar association’s proposed assigned counsel plan. However, the Association must not comment on pending or impending cases (see 22 NYCRR 100.3[B][8]) and must not engage in any fund-raising activities (see 22 NYCRR 100.4[C][3][b][i], [iv]).

         Enclosed for your convenience are Opinions 08-215 and 07-124, which address this issue.


                                                 Very truly yours,

                                                 George D. Marlow, Assoc. Justice

                                                 Appellate Div., First Dep’t (Ret.)

                                                 Committee Co-Chair

                                                 Hon. Margaret T. Walsh

                                                 Family Court Judge

                                                 Acting Justice, Supreme Court

                                                 Committee Co-Chair