Opinion 18-136

September 6, 2018


Digest:         A village justice with no direct or independent knowledge of alleged misconduct by a court officer has no obligation to investigate or take any action.


Rules:          22 NYCRR 100.2(A); 100.3(D)(1)-(2); Opinions 16-25; 15-189; 15-138/15-144/15-166; 08-99.


         The mayor told the inquiring village justices a court officer1 was notifying federal immigration officers when suspected undocumented defendants will be appearing in village court. The judges are aware defendants at times were arrested on immigration charges in and near the courthouse, but they do not know if the mayor’s allegations are true or if there is any “nexus” to the court officer. The judges ask about their ethics duties here, absent personal knowledge of the court officer’s alleged activity.

          A judge must always act to promote public confidence in the judiciary’s integrity and impartiality (see 22 NYCRR 100.2[A]). Thus, if a judge receives information indicating a “substantial likelihood” an attorney or another judge has committed a “substantial violation” of the applicable rules of professional ethics, he/she must take “appropriate action” (22 NYCRR 100.3[D][1]-[2]).

         Sections 100.3(D)(1)-(2) do not require a judge to take any disciplinary action with respect to individuals who are not lawyers or judges (see e.g. Opinion 16-25). Nonetheless, sometimes, a judge with relevant personal knowledge of misconduct by court personnel may need to take steps to protect public confidence in the court’s integrity and impartiality (see Opinions 15-189; 08-99).

         Here, however, these judges have no direct or independent knowledge of the court officer’s alleged conduct, but only a second- or third-hand report (cf. Opinion 15-138/15-144/15-166). Thus, here, they need not investigate or take any other action.

         In light of this conclusion, we decline to reach the judges’ remaining questions.


1 They do not state whether the court officer is a peace officer, police officer, constable, village security employee, deputy sheriff, or other municipal, county or state officer or employee.