By a 57-0 vote, the state Senate has approved a bill requested by the New York State Bar Association to afford judges who seek help with substance abuse and mental health issues the same level of confidentiality provided to attorneys. Since 1993, the Judiciary Law has provided that confidential communication with lawyer assistance committees is privileged and that the members of the committees are immune from liability when acting in good faith. However, the law did not specifically provide judicial assistance committees with the same protections. Under S6618, judicial assistance committees would have the ability to provide confidential assistance to judges wrestling with substance abuse, depression and other issues.
The bill by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman John Bonacic, R-Mount Hope, does not yet have an Assembly sponsor. However, the state bar is working to get the matter before the lower house, according to Lise Bang-Jensen, a spokeswoman for the bar group. She noted that the state bar has had a lawyer assistance program for more than 20 years that has helped numerous attorneys, including judges.