May 5, 2022
Digest: A judge may present an educational program on family offense petitions to a sheriff’s office, provided the judge does not provide partisan advice on litigation strategy or tactics and otherwise complies with generally applicable limitations on judicial speech and conduct. The session may be held in a training room at the sheriff’s office or virtually.
Rules: 22 NYCRR 100.2; 100.2(A); 100.3(B)(6); 100.3(B)(8); 100.4(A)(1)-(3); 100.4(B); Opinions 12-44; 09-208; 96-44.
The inquiring judge asks if they or their staff may present an educational program to the sheriff’s office on how family offense petitions are processed in family court “from the filing of the petition through the resolution of the case.” The presentation would be “a general overview without reference to any actual cases.” The judge also asks about permissible locations, and specifically if the judge may make the presentation either at “the Sheriff’s training room” or “virtually.”
A judge must always avoid even the appearance of impropriety (see 22 NYCRR 100.2) and act to promote public confidence in the judiciary’s integrity and impartiality (see 22 NYCRR 100.2[A]). A judge may participate in extrajudicial activities, including lecturing and teaching, provided they are not incompatible with judicial office and they do not cast reasonable doubt on the judge’s capacity to act impartially, detract from the dignity of judicial office, or interfere with the proper performance of judicial duties (see 22 NYCRR 100.4[A]-; 100.4[B]). A judge’s participation is also subject to all applicable limitations on judicial speech and conduct, including the rule against impermissible ex parte communications (see 22 NYCRR 100.3[B]) and the rule prohibiting public comment on a pending or impending proceeding in any court within the United States or its territories (see 22 NYCRR 100.3[B]).
That the audience will be limited to employees of the sheriff’s office does not necessarily bar the judge’s participation (see Opinion 12-44). Indeed, so long as the judge takes “particular care that his/her 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,” it may “benefit the public interest when an organization that is involved in litigating only one side of an issue is exposed to the type of broad and nuanced perspective that a judge can offer” (id. [citations omitted]). Accordingly, a judge may speak to a group consisting only of sheriff’s office employees so long as the judge avoids any perception that he/she is providing advice on litigation strategy or tactics. Moreover, provided the judge’s subject-matter is appropriate, the fact that deputy sheriffs who attend the training program may appear before the judge does not render the judge’s participation inappropriate (see Opinion 96-44).
We have said a judge may participate in a panel discussion sponsored by the local sheriff’s department, as part of the department’s regular training program, “for the purpose of explaining the procedures and operations of the court” (Opinion 96-44). Likewise, we said a judge may speak before a local sheriff’s association about “the types of cases handled by the court, how they are handled by the court and the court’s case load” (Opinion 09-208).
Here, the proposed topic appears to be similarly neutral. We thus conclude the judge may present an educational program to the sheriff’s office on the processing of cases in family court. As previously noted, the judge must exercise care to avoid “the perception that he/she is providing partisan advice on litigation strategy or tactics” (Opinion 12-44) and “any perception of partiality or of a predisposition to decide matters in a particular way” (Opinion 96-44). The judge must also abide by generally applicable limitations on judicial speech and conduct, including the public comment rule (see 22 NYCRR 100.3[B]).
Although we have not previously opined on where such otherwise permissible instruction or training may occur, we see no impropriety if it takes place in a training room located at the sheriff’s offices. That location, without more, does not render the presentation ethically impermissible as long as the judge complies with the standards enunciated here. If the presentation is held virtually, the same ethical standards apply, and the judge may make the presentation through electronic means under the guidelines set forth above.