Opinion 21-134


September 9, 2021


Digest:         A village justice may send a mailing to village residents detailing, and limited to, the court’s jurisdiction and the types of cases heard in the village court, as it is limited to the law, the legal system, and the administration of justice.


Rules:          22 NYCRR 100.2(A); 100.3(B)(8); 100.4(A)(1)-(3); 100.4(B); Opinions 13-116; 11-56; 95-08.




         A village justice asks if it is ethically permissible to send mailers to village residents, at the judge’s own expense, “explaining the functions and jurisdiction of the justice court ... so residents are cognizant of the functions of the local courts.” The judge would describe the monetary limits and residency requirements for small claims and civil cases, and other matters the village court handles, such as orders of protection and certain landlord/tenant disputes. The judge believes that the proposed mailers “would enhance public confidence in the local judiciary and its system of justice.”


         A judge must always avoid even the appearance of impropriety (see 22 NYCRR 100.2) and must always act to promote public confidence in the judiciary’s integrity and impartiality (see 22 NYCRR 100.2[A]). A judge generally may speak, write, lecture, teach and participate in extra-judicial activities (see 22 NYCRR 100.4[B]) as long as such activities are not incompatible with judicial office and do not cast doubt on the judge’s capacity to act impartially as a judge, detract from the dignity of judicial office, or interfere with the proper performance of judicial duties (see 22 NYCRR 100.4[A][1]-[3]. In so doing, a judge may not comment on pending or impending cases in any court within the United States or its territories (see 22 NYCRR 100.3[B][8]), although they may “explain[] for public information the procedures of the court” (id.).


         Applying these principles, we have said a judge may disseminate informational radio messages explaining the jurisdiction and procedures of the court (see Opinion 95-08) or moderate a panel discussion about “the basics of court operations” at the judge’s religious institution (Opinion 11-56). Indeed, we even said a housing court judge may speak at a meeting of a property owners’ organization about court procedures in landlord-tenant matters, subject to certain additional cautions in light of the one-sided audience (see Opinion 13-116).


         Here, the judge wishes to distribute a mailing that will inform local residents about the jurisdictional reach of the judge’s court and the types of cases it handles. We understand the mailing is limited to that purpose. Thus, as the mailing is designed to educate the public about the law, the legal system and the administration of justice, it is ethically permissible, subject to generally applicable limitations on judicial speech and comment (see e.g. 22 NYCRR 100.3[B][8] [public comment rule]; Opinions 11-56; 95-08). Of course, the mailer must not “compromise [the judge’s] apparent or actual impartiality” nor “manifest a predisposition to decide a particular type or class of case a certain way” (Opinion 13-116).