September 21, 1995
Digest: A full-time judge, involved as a college teacher of a course in criminal justice and related topics may comment within the classroom on actual cases pending in courts, in other jurisdictions, but not in courts within the judge's jurisdiction.
Rules: 22 NYCRR 100.3 (a)(6), 100.4 (a)
A full-time judge, who teaches a course at a local university in criminal justice, punishment, sociology of law, and criminology, inquires whether it violates the rule against "public comment" (22 NYCRR 100.3 [a]) to discuss pending court cases in the classroom.
The answer turns on whether the phrase “public comment” in the cited rule was intended to restrict the permissible activities under 22 NYCRR 100.4 (a) which allows judges to "lecture, teach, and participate in other activities concerning the law, the legal system, and the administration of justice". The latter rule obviously contemplates a reasonable degree of academic freedom within the confines of a classroom. Engaging in discussion with students about current events involving cases being tried in other localities, generally speaking, can in no way negatively impact the criminal justice system. However, judges should refrain from making gratuitous and unnecessarily, controversial statements about pending cases, and they should avoid any discussion of cases pending within the general jurisdictional locale of the judge's court and the college campus. For example, the judge's question includes a reference to the fact that the new textbook used in this course refers to a highly publicized murder in the State of California. In the context of a regular course of study of criminal justice in the state of New York, a New York State judge who comments in class about an aspect of that trial should not be deemed to be making a "public comment" about the case.
Therefore, as a general proposition, a judge who is employed to teach a regular course of study at a college or university on a subject related to the justice system may comment in the classroom about cases pending in other jurisdictions.