December 1, 2020
This responds to your inquiry (20-181) asking whether you must take any action with respect to the submissions of a town justice in support of a pistol permit application before you. You indicate that the town justice initially provided a character reference, evidently at the request of the applicant, in support of the application for a “full carry” use of a handgun based on the applicant’s employment as a town court clerk. After you denied the application and granted a more limited license, the clerk asked you to reconsider and attached a detailed, two-page letter from the town justice, on judicial stationery, in support. You now ask whether you must take any disciplinary action regarding the town justice’s involvement in his/her clerk’s pistol applications.
The Committee has repeatedly advised that a judge may not serve voluntarily as a character reference for an individual applying for a pistol permit. We have further advised that a judge who receives a letter from another judge in support of a pending application in the receiving judge’s court, under circumstances that indicate that the letter was not solicited by an appropriate agency, must report the letter writer to the Commission on Judicial Conduct.
Under the circumstances you describe, i.e., a judge voluntarily submitting both an impermissible character reference and a two-page letter in support of a pistol permit application, is clearly prohibited under the Rules Governing Judicial Conduct and our prior opinions (see e.g. 22 NYCRR 100.2[C] [a judge shall not lend the prestige of judicial office to advance the private interests of the judge or others and shall not testify voluntarily as a character witness]; Opinion 10-175 [the conduct, if occurred as described, is likely to undermine public confidence in the judiciary because it suggests an attempt by one judge to improperly influence another judge]).
Under the circumstances described, you have an affirmative duty to report the town justice to the Commission on Judicial Conduct (see 22 NYCRR 100.3[D]).
Enclosed, for your convenience, are Opinions 16-18; 10-175; 10-17; and 95-33 which address this issue.
Very truly yours,
Margaret T. Walsh Supreme Court Justice
Acting Supreme Court Justice