Opinion 23-10

February 2, 2023


Digest:         A city court judge need not object to a city police department’s automated phone system which offers callers an opportunity to be transferred directly to the court clerk’s general office line if they are calling about a court appearance, fine, disposition or court paperwork.


Rules:          22 NYCRR 100.0(S); 100.1; 100.2; 100.2(A); Opinions 17-73; 10-172.


         The inquiring city court judge has learned that the city police department’s automated phone system includes, after several police-related options, a few options to connect with other agencies. If a caller chooses the option for a “court appearance, fine, disposition or court paperwork,” the call is transferred to the court clerk’s office, where it is answered in a standard manner by court personnel who field calls from the public. The judge is concerned that the police department’s automated phone system might impermissibly blur the line between the executive and judicial branches, and therefore asks if it is necessary to take any action in response.

         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 must uphold the judiciary’s integrity, impartiality, and independence (see 22 NYCRR 100.1; 100.2[A]; 100.0[S] [“An ‘independent’ judiciary is one free of outside influences or control.”]).

         Clearly, a local judge must not acquiesce to municipal actions that infringe on judicial independence or create an appearance that the court is part of the executive branch (see e.g. Opinion 17-73 [noting that a village court is a separate and independent branch of government, “distinct from the mayor, clerk, board and other village executive branch and legislative branch offices”]).

         Here, however, the automated phone system does not in any way impact on the day-to-day court operations or independence of the court. We have previously advised that it does not undermine judicial independence for court information to be posted on the municipality’s website (see Opinion 10-172). Likewise, on the facts presented, the police department’s phone system is unlikely to undermine the city court’s actual or apparent independence or otherwise create any appearance of impropriety. Accordingly, the judge has no ethical obligation to take any action with respect to the phone system.