Opinion 23-11


February 2, 2023


Digest:         A part-time judge may maintain employment in a child advocacy center within a law enforcement office in a county different from where the judge presides and may serve as treasurer of a volunteer fire department. We decline to comment on questions that are unduly speculative and hypothetical.


Rules:          Social Services Law § 423-A; 22 NYCRR 100.2; 100.2(A); 100.4(A)(1)-(3); 100.4(C)(3); 100.6(B)(4); Opinions 22-136; 21-173; 21-124; 21-80; 20-95; 17-125; 17-42; 17-37; 16-32; 08-145; 07-01; 03-118; 05-73; 03-97; 01-47; 00-33; 98-116; 96-34; 95-102; 91-149.


         The inquirer is “contemplating running for” a part-time justice position and seeks advice concerning potential conflicts arising from current work and volunteer activities and possible future work opportunities.


         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]).


1. Outside Employment with Child Advocacy Center in Another County


         The inquirer is currently employed by a law enforcement office in another county as a civilian employee in a child advocacy center. The center was established pursuant to section 423-A of the Social Services Law, which provides that “[c]hild advocacy centers shall be established by either a governmental entity or a private, nonprofit incorporated agency and shall meet the state office of children and family services program standards for child advocacy centers approval and strive to co-locate members of the local multi-disciplinary team at the child advocacy center.”


         According to the inquirer, the center serves as a “‘one stop shop’” for [abused] children, families, and professionals by bringing everyone together in a warm, safe, and child-friendly location.” The center’s goal is to “improve the response to child abuse by eliminating multiple interviews and examinations of children, providing quick access to mental health, victim advocacy, and support services for children and families and enhancing multi-disciplinary communication and coordination.” The services rendered by the center are multi-faceted and varied. According to the inquirer, caseworkers help children and their families through the criminal litigation process, accompanying children to court proceedings and advocating for their needs. They assist in helping children speak to investigators, which may facilitate the presentment of testimony at trial and the resolution of criminal cases, but maintain an independent, child-centered approach. The inquirer states that care is taken to avoid the caseworkers becoming witnesses at trial.


         A part-time judge may hold outside employment in a federal, state or municipal department or agency provided that such employment is not incompatible with judicial office and does not interfere with the proper performance of the judge’s duties (see 22 NYCRR 100.6[B][4]).


         Application of these principles to a part-time judge’s employment with a law enforcement office requires careful consideration. As we explained in Opinion 22-136:


When the non-judicial employment may appear to align the judge with law enforcement or defense functions, increased scrutiny is necessary (see Opinion 21-173 [town justice may not serve as confidential secretary to county sheriff, where the court’s calendar includes a substantial number of tickets issued by sheriff’s deputies]).


At least two conditions must be met for a part-time judge to maintain employment with a law enforcement agency (see id.). First, the employment must not involve, or appear to involve, a peace officer or quasi-law enforcement role (id.). Second, the agency must not appear so frequently in the judge’s court as to interfere with the judge’s duties (id.).


In addition, even where those two conditions are arguably met, the positions may still be ethically incompatible if the judge’s role “will be perceived as too closely aligned with law enforcement interests” (Opinions 20-95 [part time judge may not serve as business agent for a correction officers’ union]; 16-32 [part-time city court judge who presides over arraignments and other criminal cases should not serve as sheriff’s office part-time in-house counsel]).


         Applying these principles, we have said that a part-time judge could not serve as: a dispatcher for a sheriff’s department in the county in which the judge’s court was located (Opinion 98-116); a community school liaison with the local sheriff’s department (Opinion 22-136); a sheriff’s department civilian court aid in County Court (Opinion 01-47); a town code enforcement officer (see Opinion 03-97); or as a secretary in the New York State Police Internal Affairs Bureau (see Opinion 07-01).


         In contrast, we have said that a part-time judge may maintain employment as an academic/administrative employee who administers and oversees a SUNY-hosted police cadet academy (see Opinion 17-42), a public safety advocate in the sheriff’s department which has no connection to the local police division (see Opinion 08-145), a behind-the-scenes data entry clerk in a county sheriff’s office (see Opinion 03-118), a civilian employee in the state police (see Opinion 91-149), a training director for the city’s emergency communications department (Opinion 17-125), a security officer at a community college (see Opinion 05-73) or a caseworker for a County Child Protective Services office (see Opinion 96-34).


         As noted above, applicable law permits child advocacy centers to be established as departments or programs of government and non-government offices of varying types, including as here, part of a law enforcement office. Inasmuch as part-time judges may serve public advocates and caseworkers for Child Protective Services, we also conclude that a part-time judge may be simultaneously employed in the child advocacy center in another county under the circumstances described. That the center is part of a law enforcement office does not alter this conclusion, particularly where the office is located in a different county from where the inquirer would preside as a judge.


2. Volunteering with a Not-for-Profit Fire Company


         The inquirer also volunteers at a local not-for-profit fire company as a treasurer and grant-writer, and apparently engages in fund-raising activities for the fire company. The question is whether this volunteer work is ethically compatible with part-time judicial office.


         A judge may engage in extra-judicial activities that are compatible 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]). A part-time judge generally may serve as an officer, director, trustee or non-legal advisor of a not-for-profit civic, charitable, or fraternal organization (see 22 NYCRR 100.4[C][3]), provided the entity is unlikely to be engaged in “proceedings that ordinarily would come before the judge” (22 NYCRR 100.4[C][3][a][i]). A judge also may not personally solicit funds or “use or permit the use” of judicial prestige for fund-raising or membership solicitation (see 22 NYCRR 100.4[C][3][b][I], [iv]) 


         We have said that a part-time judge may volunteer with not-for-profit fire departments and fire companies in various capacities, where the position does not involve peace officer or police officer status, investigative responsibilities, or working with law enforcement (see Opinions 21-124 [fire officer or trustee]; 21-80 [treasurer]). Therefore, continued service as treasurer is not ethically incompatible with service as part-time judge. In addition, the grant-writing functions performed by the inquirer are not ethically incompatible with part-time judicial office (see Opinion 21-80 [part-time judge who is secretary/treasurer for volunteer fire company may serve as point of contact to provide factual and financial information for grant application]). However, on assuming judicial office, the inquirer must not participate or lend their name to any fund-raising activity (see e.g. Opinions 95-102 [judge who is treasurer of fire department must not permit their name to be used in solicitations, including “on the return address” of an envelope seeking contributions]; 00-33 [judge who is the president of a public library’s board of directors must not chair, sit on the dais, or otherwise participate in public meetings seeking support for a bond proposition to expand the library]).


3. Other Career Aspirations


         Regarding the inquirer’s last question, concerning their long-term career goals and potential future work opportunities, we decline to comment as the question is too hypothetical and speculative (see Opinion 17-37).