Opinion 22-191


February 2, 2023


Digest:       (1) A full-time judge may assist a not-for-profit organization in developing a training program designed to educate medical professionals, first responders and others on assessing, evaluating and responding to domestic violence situations, provided the program and participants are not so imbalanced as to cast doubt on the judge’s impartiality. (2) The judge may also participate in presenting the training, provided the panels on which the judge serves are “balanced” and the judge abides by generally applicable limitations on judicial speech and conduct, including the public comment rule.


Rules:        22 NYCRR 100.2; 100.2(A); 100.3(B)(8); 100.4(A)(1)-(3); 100.4(B); 100.4(G); Opinions 20-44; 17-146; 15-182; 15-26/15-44; 12-156; 12-44; 08-09; 06-72; 06-15; 04-34; 03-45; 96-44; 95-34.


         A full-time judge, who presides in criminal cases, has been invited by a not-for-profit organization to help develop a training program designed to “improve and educate on more effective ways to assess, evaluate and respond to domestic violence situations.” The proposed development team includes a retired judge, a prosecutor, a defense attorney, and medical professionals. The goals of the training include “combating violence, properly triaging and assessing at the first contact, documenting potential evidence, increasing safety protocols for the victim, offender and responder or medical professional, and providing resources for [both] the victims and the offenders.” The overall training will be structured to include both panel discussions and individual presentations on various topics. The judge has also been invited to participate as a panelist once the program is developed, in training sessions both inside and outside the state, in a variety of settings, such as “prosecutor offices, defense offices, the police department, EMS and fire department facilities and hospitals or other mental health service providers/services.” The judge’s role would be “to speak in general terms about domestic violence cases and issues that are often faced by all parties, without rendering any legal opinions or citing to any cases.” If permitted, the judge would undertake all these activities as a volunteer and will not be paid for their assistance in developing the program or presenting it. On these facts, the judge asks if it is ethically permissible to participate as described.

         A judge must avoid even the appearance of impropriety (see 22 NYCRR 100.2) and must always act in a manner that promotes public confidence in the judiciary’s integrity and impartiality (see 22 NYCRR 100.2[A]). A judge may teach and participate in other extra-judicial activities (see 22 NYCRR 100.4[B]) that do not cast reasonable doubt on the judge’s capacity to act impartially as a judge, do not detract from the dignity of judicial office, do not interfere with the proper performance of judicial duties and are not incompatible with judicial office (see 22 NYCRR 100.4[A][1]-[3]). However, a judge must not make any public comment about a pending or impending proceeding in any court within the United States or its territories (see 22 NYCRR 100.3[B][8]), and a full-time judge may not practice law (see 22 NYCRR 100.4[G]).

         We have recognized that the community benefits from having judges take an active part in community affairs whenever possible, including in efforts to help extricate domestic violence victims from abusive relationships (see Opinion 15-26/15-44 [analyzing the ethical propriety of a judge’s involvement in a variety of domestic violence related events]). Of course, the event must not be so extraordinarily one-sided in nature that the judge’s mere attendance would necessarily cast doubt on their ability to be impartial (see id.).

         We have advised that a judge may serve on a county’s Domestic Violence Consortium that included representatives from all components of the community (see Opinion 03-45); may participate in a Domestic Violence Task Force that includes persons from both the District Attorney’s and Public Defender’s offices (see Opinion 95-34); may join, support, and participate in an organization formed to seek a change in the law that would enable more non-relative victims of domestic violence to obtain civil orders of protection in Family Court (see Opinion 08-09); and may serve on a Steering Committee established to make a comprehensive assessment of current practices employed in a particular county involving sex offenders, where (among other things) “the Steering Committee’s membership represents a wide variety of persons and organizations, including law enforcement and the defense bar” (Opinion 06-72). We have noted that, in such situations, “the balanced membership helps ensure that the judge’s participation will not cast reasonable doubt on the judge’s impartiality” (Opinion 12-156).

         Moreover, a judge may attend and speak at an elder abuse awareness conference sponsored by a not-for-profit home health care agency, “where the program is primarily educational and preventative in nature” (Opinion 20-44). A judge may also attend a free public conference on human trafficking, where the program will focus primarily on helping identify and assist at-risk individuals and is unlikely to be perceived as a law enforcement program (see Opinion 17-146). In this regard, we noted that the program was not sponsored by a law enforcement agency but by multiple governmental and charitable entities (see id.). Likewise, a judge may “attend and participate” in a summit on elder abuse, provided the judge “does not comment on any matter pending or impending in any court; does not participate in law enforcement or prosecution-oriented presentations; and does not express views which manifest a predisposition in deciding issues or cases” (Opinion 04-34).

         As it appears that the training will be presented in various locations, “including prosecutor offices, defense offices, the police department, EMS and fire department facilities and hospitals or other mental health service providers/services,” we must also address the issue of a “one-sided” audience. When the audience is not a general audience but, instead, comprises only one “side,” a judge must take particular care that the topic “will not compromise the judge’s apparent or actual impartiality and does not manifest a predisposition to decide a particular type or class of case a certain way” (Opinion 12-44 [citations omitted]). Subject to these and other limitations, we have said a judge may teach a NYS Fire Police Training Course (see Opinion 06-15) or participate in a panel discussion sponsored by a sheriff’s department as part of its training, for the purpose of explaining the procedures and operations of the court (see Opinions 96-44). Here, too, the fact that the training may be given to an audience of prosecutors or law enforcement officers does not necessarily bar the judge’s participation, whether inside or outside New York.

         On the facts presented, we conclude the judge’s proposed participation appears primarily educational in nature and is unlikely to cast doubt on the judge’s capacity to act impartially as a judge or otherwise interfere with the proper performance of judicial duties. Therefore, it is ethically permissible for the judge to accept the invitation to help develop the training and participate in presenting it, provided the specific panels on which the judge serves are balanced.1 However, the judge must abide by generally applicable limitations on judicial speech and conduct. For example, the judge must be mindful not to comment on a “pending or impending proceeding” in any court within the United States or its territories (see 22 NYCRR 100.3[B][8]) and not to express views which manifest a predisposition in deciding issues or cases. We note that the same principles apply whether the program takes place inside or outside the state (see e.g. Opinion 15-182 fn 3).


1 For example, judge could co-present with both an assistant district attorney and an assistant public defender, as the panel would then be “balanced” with perspectives from both sides of a case.