May 5, 2022
Digest: A town justice may not permit a court clerk to accept outside employment as a matron with the town police department that regularly appears in the justice’s court.
Rules: 22 NYCRR 100.0(S); 100.1; 100.3(C)(1); 100.3(C)(2); Opinions 16-142; 15-115; 13-43; 10-154; 01-43.
The inquiring town justice asks if they may allow a town court clerk, when off-duty, to work as a “matron” in the prisoner holding area of the local police department.1 The matron would work in plainclothes, without a badge or uniform, would be paid by the town, and would oversee women arrested awaiting arraignment to ensure their safety and privacy. The judge believes the on-call employment would be infrequent, as the judge sees a matron at arraignment “definitely less than once a month.” The judge would instruct the court clerk not to reveal or discuss any observations or interactions with a prisoner.
A judge must uphold the judiciary’s integrity, impartiality, and independence (see 22 NYCRR 100.1; 100.0[S] [“An ‘independent’ judiciary is one free of outside influences or control.”]). A judge must “diligently discharge the judge’s administrative responsibilities without bias or prejudice and maintain professional competence in judicial administration” (22 NYCRR 100.3[C]) and “require staff, court officials and others subject to the judge’s direction and control to observe the standards of fidelity and diligence that apply to the judge” (22 NYCRR 100.3[C]).
We have said a town or village justice may not permit a court clerk to maintain outside employment with the same police department that serves the judge’s court (see Opinions 13-43 [part-time assistant court clerk as assistant to the municipality’s Police Chief]; 10-154 [village court clerk as receptionist/clerk for village police department]; 01-43 [village court clerk as clerk for the village police department]; 16-142 [part-time court clerk as assistant to the local prosecutor]; see also generally Opinion 15-115 [briefly summarizing prior opinions and noting the “strong appearance of impropriety and/or partiality” in such simultaneous employment]).
Even though the court clerk’s proposed employment as a matron would be infrequent and in plainclothes, we nonetheless believe a “court clerk’s involvement in on-going police activity would erode public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary” (Opinion 13-43). Therefore, the inquiring town justice may not permit the town court clerk to work as a matron for the same police department that regularly appears in the town court.
1 A “police matron” is “a woman in a municipal police department who has charge of women and children detained (as in a police station and jail)” (Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary, available at http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/police%20matron [accessed June 21, 2022]). We assume that the closest gender-neutral equivalent would be “guard, warden, or attendant” (Collins Online Dictionary, “matron” in American English, available at https://www.collinsdictionary.com/dictionary/english/matron [accessed June 21, 2022]).