Opinion 91-36

June 13, 1991


Digest:         When an administrative judge receives a complaint from an attorney that a non-lawyer part-time judge inappropriately is using the court to collect debts, the administrative judge may initiate administrative rather than disciplinary measures to cease the practice.


Rules:          22 NYCRR §100.3(b)(3).


         An administrative judge received a complaint from a lawyer alleging inappropriate use of the court by a part-time judge in collecting debts on behalf of certain creditors. The conduct consisted of sending an official-looking “Debtor on Notice” form, referring to a “Valid Claim” “overdue”, etc. It is signed (perhaps only as the person before whom the affidavit of claim is affirmed) by the Town Justice, with the Justice’s official title. It is signed (perhaps only as the Town Justice), with the Justice’s official title. It says “Payment to be made to the Court * * * Check or money order payable to Town Justice ____________”.

         The administrative judge asks whether the part-time judge’s inappropriate activities, nevertheless, should be reported to the State Commission on Judicial Conduct.

         Section 100.3(b)(3) of the Rules of the Chief Administrator states that “a judge shall . . . initiate disciplinary measures against a judge . . . for unprofessional conduct of which the judge may become aware.”

         The Court of Appeals has pointed out that there is a distinction between inappropriate judicial conduct requiring administrative correction only and conduct requiring disciplinary action. Matter of Greenfield, 76 N.Y.2d 293, 297 (1990). The Committee is of the opinion that the inquiring Administrative Judge may consider that the conduct here involved calls only for administrative action.

         The inquiring Administrative Judge indicates that there appears to have been no improper motivation by the part-time Town Judge, who is not a lawyer, and who was merely continuing in good faith the prior administrative practice of the court in effect before the part-time judge became a judge. As stated above, the part-time judge immediately ceased the practice when informed that it was improper.

         The factual circumstances of this case are such that they warrant an administrative judge, in that judge’s sound discretion, to limit his or her action to administrative remedies. Of course, in other factual circumstances, not here addressed by the Committee, where an administrative judge becomes aware of apparent substantial misconduct by another judge, the administrative judge might well be obliged to report that apparent misconduct to other appropriate authorities, such as the State Commission on Judicial Conduct.