September 24, 2018
This responds to your inquiry (18-135) asking whether it is ethically permissible to submit a character reference letter on behalf of a long-time friend who has been charged with a federal crime.
The Rules Governing Judicial Conduct prohibit a judge from lending the prestige of judicial office to advance the private interests of another and from voluntarily testifying as a character witness (see 22 NYCRR 100.2[C]). Thus, the Committee has advised in prior opinions that the Rules prohibit judges from providing character references, written or oral, on behalf of individuals who are the subject of criminal or professional misconduct proceedings at the request of such individuals or their counsel. However, a judge may respond to an official request to provide a character reference if asked directly by the tribunal, hearing officer, or other governing body or official involved in the matter.
Enclosed, for your convenience, are Opinions 16-33; 10-188; 07-61; and 02-09 which address this issue.
Very truly yours,
George D. Marlow, Assoc. Justice
Appellate Div., First Dep’t
Hon. Margaret T. Walsh
Family Court Judge
Acting Justice, Supreme Court