Opinion: 99-111

September 14, 1999

Digest: On the facts presented, it is not improper for a part-time judge to serve on a county Criminal Justice Coordinating Council which is studying ways of improving the criminal justice system in the county, provided that the work of the Council does not impinge upon the independent decision-making of the judiciary.

Rule:  22 NYCRR 100.1; 100.4(A)(1); 100.4(C)(2)(a); 100.4(C)(3);
           Opinions 97-56 (Vol. XV); 96-137 (Vol. XV);
           96-96 (Vol. XIV); 95-150 (Vol. XIII); 95-126 (Vol. XIII);
           95-34 (Vol. XIII).


            A county is in the process of forming a Criminal Justice Coordinating Council that would serve in an advisory capacity to the county legislature and other elected officials. "The Council would look at the system and policies that are driving the workload of the system, especially the Jail to see what can be done to improve the operation of the Criminal Justice System in [the county]." The impetus for the establishment of the Council was a study of the county jail by the National Institute of Corrections, which recommended the formation of a Criminal Justice Coordinating Council. Membership would include a wide variety of persons and representatives of different organizations, including a district attorney and a representative of Legal Aid.

            The president of the county magistrate's association, a local judge, asks if participation in the Council by a part-time local judge would constitute a conflict of interest.

            Based on the materials presented, the Committee does not believe there is a conflict between the performance of judicial duties and membership in the Council. The organization will not be appearing in court on behalf of or in support of purported victims of crime, or those charged with a crime. Nor is it intended to be an advocacy group on behalf of particular categories of persons involved in the criminal justice system. In such instances, the Committee has taken the position that participation in the formulation of the organization's policies and its advocacy of such would, indeed, cast doubt on the impartiality of the judiciary in violation of section 100.4(A)(1) of the Rules Governing Judicial Conduct. 22 NYCRR 100.4(A)(1). See Opinions 97-56 (Vol. XV); 96-137 (Vol. XV); 96-96 (Vol. XIV); 95-34 (Vol. XIII); 95-150 (Vol. XIII); 95-126 (Vol. XIII).

            No such dangers appear to be present in this instance. Indeed, the Rules Governing Judicial Conduct specifically permit judges to participate in organizations, including governmental agencies, devoted to the improvement of the law, the legal system or the administration of justice, subject to the limitations set forth in the Rules Governing Judicial Conduct. 22 NYCRR 100.4(C)(2)(a); 100.4(C)(3). This latter caution means, in part, that care must be taken so that organizational consideration of ways of improving the county criminal justice system does not result in an impingement upon the independent decision-making of judges, in contravention of section 100.1 of the Rules, but simply allows the judge to be a participant in a shared interchange of viewpoints and insights. With that caveat, the Committee is of the opinion that membership on the Council is not improper.