Opinion 18-110

June 21, 2018


Digest:         A city court judge may attend the mayor’s free anti-violence event for youth as an audience member with no speaking role.


Rules:          22 NYCRR 100.2; 100.2(A); 100.4(A)(1)-(3); Opinions 15-113; 14-41; 13-13; 07-52; 99-77.


         A city court judge who presides mostly in civil and traffic matters, but also conducts arraignments periodically, asks if he/she may attend the mayor’s free anti-violence event for “street group members and their associates” as an audience member. Its purpose is to discourage and prevent violence by (a) providing a forum for law enforcement and community members to share an anti-violence message and (b) bringing in service providers to provide information about services available. The judge will not speak at the event. The mayor apparently hopes gang members or other youth in attendance will interpret the presence of invited audience members, including the judge, as silent support for the anti-violence message. We understand the event is not a fund-raiser and is not sponsored by any political organization.

         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]). A judge may participate in a variety of extra-judicial activities, including civic activities, 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][1]-[3]).

         Generally, “the community benefits from having judges take an active part in community affairs whenever possible” (Opinion 13-13), including in community efforts to prevent juvenile delinquency and reduce violence (see e.g. Opinions 15-113; 99-77). But, a judge may not “participate in otherwise laudable community activities that will compromise the judge’s impartiality” (Opinion 13-13), such as “a program that might be perceived as a law enforcement program” (Opinions 15-113; 07-52). Still, a judge may be the introductory speaker at a program focused on discouraging gun violence if the program maintains a balance between speakers representing prosecution or law enforcement perspectives and speakers representing defense perspectives (see Opinion 15-113). Also, a judge may co-chair a citizens task force to reduce teen violence and crime in the community, but should avoid participation in controversial issues, litigation, fund-raising or other activities incompatible with judicial office (see Opinion 99-77).

         We conclude this judge, as proposed, may attend the mayor’s anti-violence event with no speaking role. The speakers will include service providers, community members, and law enforcement representatives who wish to dissuade attendees from resorting to violence. Thus, we believe the program cannot reasonably be seen as an impermissible law enforcement event. And, since the event’s goal is to discourage and prevent violence, it is unlikely to involve discussions of pending or impending cases or otherwise cast doubt on the judge’s ability to be impartial (cf. Opinion 14-41 [judge may attend fund-raiser for domestic violence agency, but “should absent him/herself if there is any discussion of a case that is currently pending before the judge”]).