May 5, 2016
Digest: A judge and his/her family may not attend a defensive driving program hosted by the police department exclusively for police personnel and their families and otherwise closed to the public.
Rules: 22 NYCRR 100.1; 100.2; 100.2(A); 100.4(A)(1) - (3); Opinion 09-101.
The inquiring judge, who regularly presides in criminal cases in which local police officers appear, asks if he/she may accept an invitation for the judge and his/her family to attend a full-day point and insurance reduction defensive driving program hosted by the local police department. The event is otherwise exclusively for police personnel and their families; attendance is not open to any other municipal employees nor to the public. The judge would pay the standard per-person fee for each family member attending.
A judge must always avoid even the appearance of impropriety (see 22 NYCRR 100.2) and must always promote public confidence in the judiciary’s integrity and impartiality (see 22 NYCRR 100.1; 100.2[A]). A judge may engage in extra-judicial activities that are not incompatible with judicial office and do not (1) cast reasonable doubt on the judge’s capacity to act impartially as a judge; (2) detract from the dignity of judicial office; or (3) interfere with the proper performance of judicial duties (see 22 NYCRR 100.4[A]-).
Acceptance of this invitation for the judge and his/her family to participate in a program hosted by the local police department exclusively for police personnel and their families, and not for other municipal employees or the general public, would create an appearance of impropriety. The public could readily perceive the judge’s attendance as evidence of a special, favored relationship between the judge and the police department, which is prohibited (see e.g. Opinion 09-101). It could also raise questions about the judge’s impartiality, create an appearance of undue influence, and/or diminish public confidence in the judiciary’s integrity and impartiality (see 22 NYCRR 100.1; 100.2[A]).
As there is no other basis for the judge’s family to attend the program, other than their kinship to the judge, the judge also may not permit his/her family to accept the invitation.