Inquiry 20-94

June 29, 2020

Dear :

         We respond to your inquiry (20-94) asking if you, a village justice, may permit the village court clerk to help the village attorney prepare plea bargain letters to defendant motorists. Each letter would be mailed out on the village attorney’s letterhead with no visible sign of the court’s involvement. However, the court clerk would input the defendant’s name and address and the officer, docket number and charges on each letter. Other village employees, who do not work for the village court, would address and stuff the envelopes, affix postage, and deliver them to the post office.

         The judiciary must always remain independent from the prosecution and not participate or assist in prosecutorial functions (see e.g. Opinions 20-99; 15-197[A]). Thus, for example, a court may not serve as intermediary for the prosecution by holding or delivering discovery compiled by the prosecution (see Opinion 19-163). Nor may a town justice assist the local District Attorney by contacting prosecution witnesses, complainants and police officers regarding upcoming court appearances (see Opinion 15-197[B]).

         Here, similarly, a court clerk may not assist the prosecution by using the court’s database access or other digital platform to enter data in the Village Attorney’s plea bargain letters sent to defendant motorists. While we appreciate the serious public health concerns underlying the request, the judiciary’s independence must be maintained.

         Enclosed for your review are Opinions 20-99, 19-163, 15-197(A), and 15-197(B).

                                                 Very truly yours,

                                                 George D. Marlow, Assoc Justice\

                                                 Appellate Div., First Dept. (Ret)

                                                 Committee Co-Chair


                                                 Hon. Margaret T. Walsh

                                                 Supreme Court Justice

                                                 Committee Co-Chair