Ethics Opinion 214

By Committee on Professional Ethics

NEW YORK STATE BAR ASSOCIATION
Professional Ethics Committee Opinions

Opinion #214 – 11/22/1971 (47-71)

Topic: Conflict of Interest, Town Justice and Assistant District Attorney Office Associates
Digest: An attorney may not act as town justice in a town within the county in which his office associate is district attorney
Code: Canon 9, Judicial Ethics: 4, 13, 26

QUESTION

May one associate of a law firm hold office as a town justice in a town within a county where another associate of the same firm is an assistant district attorney as long as the latter person never appears in said town?

OPINION

In N.Y. State 118(1969) it was held that it would be improper for a village police judge to sit in judgment on criminal matters in a jurisdiction where his partner is an assistant district attorney, stating:”The district attorney’s office is comparable to a legal partnership. Such a partnership, through the particular assistant district attorney, is (indirectly) associated with the judge of the village court. The district attorney and his assistants are therefore ethically prohibited from prosecuting any criminal case before this village court…”The decision would be the same if the assistant district attorney and the judge were not partners, but merely office associates or employees of the same firm. ABA A-284.  As stated in ABA 104 (1934):”A and B, however, are not co-partners …but the public, knowing of their intimate relation as office associates, may infer that there is some influence operating in their establishment …Lawyers should not conduct themselves in such a way as to impair the confidence which the community have in the administration of justice.”If the justice of the peace and the assistant district attorney were office associates, the justice of the peace would be disqualified from presiding in any case in which the district attorney or any of his assistants appeared. Judicial Canon 4, 13, 26; Canon 9. Accordingly, it would not be proper in a town which is within a county where his office associate is district attorney, for a lawyer to accept the portion of justice of the peace.

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