March 13, 1997
Digest: The local Chief of Police should not be employed as Court Attendant in the Town Court.
Rules: 22 NYCRR 100.1, 100.3, 100.3(C)(2); Opinion 96-64
The three judges of a Town Court inform the Committee that the Chief of Police of a local police department is also employed as the Court Attendant. As stated by the judges, the police department in question “is one of the agencies within our jurisdiction and the Court Attendant is present for all court procedures...” They ask whether there is a conflict of interest.
A closely related question was presented to the Committee in Opinion 96-64 in which the two judges of the Town Court asked whether the clerk of the court may accept employment as a town constable. Citing section 100.3(C)(2) of the Rules Governing Judicial Conduct, (a judge “shall require staff, court officials and others subject to the judge’s direction and control to observe the same standards of fidelity and diligence that apply to the judge...”), the Committee advised that permission should not be granted to the full-time clerk of the court to accept an appointment as a constable in the same town, noting that “...the dual employment position proposed by the clerk would be inappropriate and would cause the judges’ impartiality to be reasonably questioned.”
The Committee is of the opinion that the same principle applies in the instant matter. The employment of the Chief of Police as Court Attendant, in our view, would likewise “cause the judges’ impartiality to be reasonably questioned”, in violation of section 100.3 of the Rules Governing Judicial Conduct. This is not to say that no police officer may ever serve in any capacity as a court employee. But, here, the employee is the Chief of Police. That position carries with it the exercise of authority, supervision and control over all subordinate police officers, including those who are appearing in the court in the same jurisdiction served by the police department. The Chief of Police is likely to be regarded by the public as the official representative of the police department. Employment as the Town Court’s Attendant could readily lead to erroneous perception that there is some official, judicially sanctioned relationship between the court and the police department. Such a view would undermine the independence of the judiciary. 22 NYCRR 100.1. Accordingly, the Committee is of the opinion that the Chief of Police should not serve as Court Attendant.