Opinion: 99-173

December 9, 1999

Digest: Under the circumstances, there is no appearance of impropriety in a judge's having a personal relationship with a police sergeant who is employed by the police department primarily in an administrative capacity, in the municipality in which the judge's court is located.

Rule:  22 NYCRR 100.2(B), 100.3(E)(1), 100.3(F);
           Opinion 98-27 (Vol. XVI).


            A judge inquires whether an appearance of impropriety exists based solely upon the fact that the judge has a personal relationship with a member of the local police department of the town in which the Court is located. The officer with whom such relationship exists is a police sergeant, whose duties are primarily administrative. Any matters in which the sergeant is involved are being handled by the inquirer's co-justice.

            Section 100.2(B) of the Rules Governing Judicial Conduct states that "[a] judge shall not allow family, social, political or other relationships to influence the judge's judicial conduct or temperament." Section 100.3(E)(1) of the Rules further states that "[a] judge shall disqualify himself or herself in a proceeding in which the judge's impartiality might reasonably be questioned." Remittal of disqualification where permitted is provided for in section 100.3(F).

            Applying these rules to the circumstances of the present case, the Committee sees no appearance of impropriety based solely on the existence of the judge's relationship with the sergeant. Nor is disclosure of the relationship required in every case involving the police department. In Opinion 98-27 (Vol. XVI), the judge's spouse was the municipality's Deputy Chief of Police whose duties were also essentially administrative. Significantly, among the Deputy Chief's duties was the issuance of press releases and the holding of press conferences. In light of the high "public visibility" of the position, the Committee thus concluded that "it would be prudent for the judge to disclose the relationship on the record in each criminal proceeding" involving the municipality and exercise recusal in all such cases, subject to remittal. 22 NYCRR 100.3(F). Here, the sergeant is involved in such matters as equipment and facility maintenance, preparing work schedules for four officers, statistical compilations and budget input. There is, in short, not the kind of high profile "public visibility" that was regarded as decisive in Opinion 98-27 (Vol. XVI). Accordingly, given the fact that the judge in this inquiry has decided not to preside in any case in which the sergeant may have had any involvement, the Committee sees no necessity for disclosure and recusal in all other police matters.