Opinion 23-236


February 1, 2024


Digest:  A part-time judge may maintain outside employment as an investigator for the Department of Social Services, where the judge’s responsibilities are limited to collecting information for applicants seeking public assistance.


Rules:   Social Services Law § 134-B; 22 NYCRR 100.2; 100.2(A); 100.6(B)(4); 18 NYCRR 348.7; Opinions 16-58; 14-44; 05-76; 01-87; 99-80.




          A new town justice asks if it is ethically permissible to maintain outside employment as an investigator for the Department of Social Services (DSS).  As described in the inquiry, the judge’s responsibilities are limited to collecting data from applicants for food stamps, rent subsidies or other benefits relating to life necessities and transferring the information to the appropriate DSS staff employees for processing.  In essence, the judge visits an applicant’s residence and asks about their “age, employment, source of income, rent cost/mortgage, and if there are other occupants” as part of the “Front End Detection System” defined in Social Services Law § 134-B and 18 NYCRR 348.7.  The judge’s employment does not confer or require peace officer status.  The judge does not handle any fraud investigations and has never testified in any court proceedings.[1] 


          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 part-time judge may accept private or public employment, “provided that such employment is not incompatible with judicial office and does not conflict or interfere with the proper performance of the judge’s duties” (22 NYCRR 100.6[B][4]).


          Subject to certain limitations, we have said a part-time judge may also be employed as an investigator with the Department of Social Services (see Opinion 14-44), an investigator for a public defender’s office outside the court’s jurisdiction (see Opinions 01-87; 99-80), an investigator in the Inspector General’s office for the Unified Court System (see Opinion 05-76), or a background investigator for the United States Office of Personal Management (see Opinion 16-58). 


          Here, too, where the judge’s role as DSS investigator is limited to interviews and data collection for possible public benefits, it is ethically permissible for this judge to maintain this outside employment concurrently with part-time judicial office.


[1] Although the judge is not involved in court proceedings, we note for completeness that any related litigation would not be heard in the town court.