October 19, 2017
Digest: A judge may participate in a steering committee that plans an annual educational conference concerning adult abuse, where the conference is unlikely to be perceived as a law enforcement program and the steering committee’s membership includes both defense and prosecutorial perspectives.
Rules: 22 NYCRR 100.2; 100.2(A); 100.4(A)(1)-(3); 100.4(C)(2)(a); Opinions 15-203; 11-41; 10-166; 06-72; 04-34; 03-45; 00-54/00-56; 99-77; 99-46; 95-34.
A full-time judge asks if he/she may join a steering committee for the New York State Adult Abuse Training Institute, an annual two-day educational conference “presented by the Brookdale Center for Healthy Aging of Hunter College on behalf of the New York State Office of Children and Family Services.” The goals of the conference include “building networks, collaboration, skills and knowledge of professionals working with vulnerable adults; promoting the exchange of information, innovative thinking and best practices; improving the provision of services to protect vulnerable adults; and supporting all those who are engaged in the effort to prevent and end abuse of adults in New York State.”1 The steering committee’s members include representatives from the Office of Aging, Division of Criminal Justice Services, county representatives of Adult Protective Services, the Attorney General’s office, the Alzheimer’s Association, and Lifespan. They meet once a year to “identify issues that are relevant to those who work with adults who are at-risk in the community” and develop ideas for workshops, facilitators, and presenters at the conference. The judge observes that “issues involving older adults, in particular elder abuse, requires a coordinated and multi-system response,” including the judiciary. At the Committee’s request, the judge has confirmed that the steering committee has invited, and is willing to invite, members of the defense bar to participate.
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 100.2[A]). Thus, a judge must conduct all extra-judicial activities so they do not (1) cast reasonable doubt on the judge’s ability to act impartially as a judge; (2) detract from the dignity of judicial office; or (3) interfere with the proper performance of judicial duties and are not incompatible with judicial office (see 22 NYCRR 100.4[A]-). Also, a full-time judge may not accept appointment to a governmental committee or other governmental position concerned with issues of fact or policy in matters other than the improvement of the law, the legal system or the administration of justice (see 22 NYCRR 100.4[C][a]).
We have said a judge may attend and participate in a summit on elder abuse, provided the judge does not (a) comment on any matter pending or impending in any court, (b) participate in law enforcement or prosecution oriented presentations, or (c) express views which manifest a predisposition in deciding issues or cases (see Opinion 04-34). Here, of course, the judge would be helping plan and organize a conference on this topic, rather than merely attending and participating in it.
We have said a judge may, with the assistance of the Center for Court Innovation, organize and co-sponsor with an Appellate Division Office of Attorneys for Children, a continuing legal education program addressing various issues relating to family violence for lawyers and members of the courthouse staff, where the “proposed program involves information of general application … and will address both victim and offender-oriented issues” and “the proposed speakers include defense attorneys, prosecutors, children's lawyers and social workers, who represent the various constituent groups involved” in domestic violence (Opinion 10-166). Further, we have said a judge may participate in a task force devoted to improving the legal system’s handling of domestic violence matters, where its membership “includes persons from both the District Attorney’s and Public Defender’s offices” and thus will not cast doubt on the judge’s impartiality (Opinion 95-34). Similarly, a judge may serve on a county’s domestic violence consortium “which includes representatives from all components of the community” (Opinion 03-45). Conversely, a judge must not participate with law enforcement agencies to develop protocols or guidelines with respect to victims in the handling of domestic violence matters, where “the project excludes legal representatives of defendants, and is intended to aid in the prosecution of such cases” (Opinion 00-54/00-56).
Here, we believe the judge may participate. The steering committee is devoted to the improvement of the law, the legal system and the administration of justice through its educational programming to prevent and address abuse of vulnerable adults, and participation by the judiciary will be beneficial (cf. Opinions 99-77 [“Clearly, the prevention of teen violence and crime is an issue regarding the improvement of the law, the legal system or the administration of justice.”]; 15-203 [advisory committee on drug abuse]; 11-41 [advisory committee on domestic violence]). Moreover, the steering committee’s membership represents a wide variety of persons and organizations, including the defense bar as well as prosecutorial perspectives. Thus, there is no danger that the steering committee or its conference might be perceived as a law enforcement program or an advocacy group, thereby casting doubt on the judge’s impartiality (compare e.g. Opinions 06-72; 95-34; 03-45 with Opinions 00-54/00-56; 99-46).
1 Conference attendees include Adult Protective Services staff, attorneys, law enforcement officers, healthcare professionals, and social workers.