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Highlights of New Judicial Campaign Ethics Opinions


The main list reflects judicial campaign ethics opinions that have been published in the past 12 to 18 months. A supplemental list provides some additional opinions issued since May 2007.

For ease of reference, certain multi-topic "omnibus" opinions are also listed together at the end of the page.

The Judicial Campaign Ethics Handbook provides an overview of additional pertinent rules and opinions. In addition, you may search or browse all published Advisory Committee opinions online (1987-present).

 

Opinions Issued Within the Past Year

Opinion 16-150 (released 3/3/17)
Two judicial candidates may send a joint mailing to voters who request an absentee ballot, provided they avoid any implication of a cross-endorsement. (Note: the proposed mailer would “divide one side of the post card in half,” and each candidate would separately “give a brief summary of [his/her own] credentials and ask the recipient to cast one of their votes in [his/her own] favor.”)

Amended Opinion 16-97 (released 10/25/16)
After one bona fide effort to return unexpended funds pro rata to all contributors, a judicial candidate need not make any further efforts to return the funds, even if some envelopes were returned to the campaign committee as undeliverable.  Instead, the remaining campaign funds may be used for any purpose consistent with prior opinions and applicable law.

Opinion 16-29/16-50 (released 9/14/16)
DIGEST: (1) A candidate whose remaining unexpended campaign funds total $2,500 or less at the end of the window period may immediately treat those funds as de minimis without first attempting to return the funds pro rata to contributors. (2) A candidate whose remaining unexpended campaign funds exceed $2,500 must make one reasonable, bona fide attempt to return all the funds pro rata to contributors. Any funds remaining following this effort may be treated as de minimis. (3) De minimis campaign funds, as defined above, may be used after conclusion of the window period as follows, to the extent legally permitted: (a) they may be expended for any lawful non-political purpose connected to judicial office, such as the purchase of judicial robes, office supplies, computer software or books; or (b) they may be donated to the Catalyst Public Service Fellowship Program; or (c) subject to any necessary administrative approvals, they may be used to purchase books or other reference materials to be donated to the courthouse law libraries. (4) The Committee declines to address whether unexpended campaign funds may be donated to the Unified Court System, absent resolution of the legal and administrative policy issues involved.

Opinion 16-79 (9/8/16)
DIGEST: A judicial candidate may not personally distribute campaign materials that, on their face, invite the public to “donate” to his/her campaign, but may permit his/her campaign committee to do so.

Opinion 16-75 (9/2/16)
DIGEST: Two judicial candidates, hosting a joint fund-raiser, may permit their campaign committees to accommodate an attendee who supports only one candidate and therefore refuses to pay 50% of the ticket price to each campaign committee, by allowing him/her to pay the full price to one campaign committee. If they choose to so proceed, the candidates must instruct their campaign committees to shield the candidates from the accommodation’s details, including the donor’s identity.

Opinion 15-196 (8/24/16)
DIGEST: (1) A law clerk who conferences cases on behalf of a judge may, in his/her capacity as a judicial candidate, film a campaign commercial depicting a simulated conference, provided it is not misleading and there is no connotation of a judicial context. (2) Whether disclosure or disqualification obligations arise out of the relationship between a subsequently elected judge and an attorney who appeared in that judge’s campaign commercial depends also on any other facts that describe the nature of their relationship.

Opinion 16-47 (8/22/16)
DIGEST: A non-judge who is a judicial candidate in his/her window period may not serve on a local bar association’s screening panel evaluating applicants for appointment to state or federal judicial office.

Opinion 16-07 (7/28/16)
DIGEST: A judicial candidate may not sign a political organization’s pledge that requires the candidate to support and endorse all other candidates endorsed by the organization and to consult with it on any appointments when in public office.

Opinion 14-167 (released 2/24/16)
DIGEST: A judicial candidate, who has received a political organization’s statement of costs incurred on behalf of his/her campaign, has no affirmative duty to investigate the accuracy of the statement. However, where the statement is plainly an unreliable, advance estimate of the actual costs ultimately incurred on the candidate’s behalf, or is otherwise clearly inaccurate on its face, the candidate must request a revised statement of actual costs incurred by the organization.

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Additional Selected Opinions Issued Since 2007

Please note: Multi-topic "omnibus" opinions are listed separately for ease of reference.

Joint Opinion 15-112/15-146 (released 10/29/15)
DIGEST: (1) To the extent legally permissible, a judicial candidate may hire responsible persons to pass petitions for his/her campaign and compensate them for the time expended, subject to the fair value rule. (2) A judicial candidate may not agree to pay his/her campaign manager a bonus contingent on the candidate’s electoral victory.

Opinion 15-71 (released 9/17/15)
DIGEST: A judicial candidate may, subject to certain limitations, participate in a pro-choice or pro-life advocacy organization’s interview process, answer questions during the interview, and, if offered, accept the organization’s endorsement.

Opinion 15-121 (released 8/6/15)
DIGEST: Subject to certain limitations, a judicial candidate may permit his/her campaign committee to establish Facebook connections with the campaign committees of other candidates on the same slate.

Opinion 15-01 (released 6/22/15)
DIGEST: A non-judge who is seeking election or appointment to judicial office may remain employed as a police officer until he/she takes and files his/her oath of office as a judge.

Opinion 15-04 (released 5/29/15)
DIGEST: An incumbent judge’s public announcement that he/she will retire from the bench on a specific date, when coupled with an additional significant and reliable affirmative step to effectuate his/her retirement, is sufficient to create a known judicial vacancy for the purpose of determining when the window period opens and individuals may publicly announce their interest in seeking election to the position.

Opinion 14-146 (released 5/28/15)
DIGEST: A judicial candidate may not permit his/her campaign committee to solicit or accept items for donation to a local charity.

Opinion 14-148 (released 3/25/15)
DIGEST: A judge whose window period for his/her unsuccessful 2014 Supreme Court campaign will overlap with the window period for his/her upcoming 2015 Supreme Court campaign (1) may not roll over funds from one campaign to the next but must establish a new campaign account for the 2015 campaign; (2) may use the remaining 2014 campaign funds for all permissible purposes relating to his/her 2014 campaign during the remainder of his/her 2014 window period, including generically useful purchases which could be used for either campaign; and (3) at the conclusion of his/her 2014 window period, must dispose of any remaining 2014 campaign funds in accordance with applicable rules and opinions.

Opinion 14-113 (released 12/29/14)
DIGEST: The mere fact that a newly formed political party will be limited to the single issue suggested in the party’s name does not, without more, preclude a judicial candidate’s acceptance of the party’s endorsement or nomination.

Opinion 14-178 (released 12/15/14)
DIGEST: When a sitting judge is elected to higher judicial office, prospective candidates may presume the judge-elect’s current position will be filled at the next general election, as soon as the election results are certified. Thereafter, once the window period for the position is open, they may declare their candidacy, establish campaign committees, and otherwise publicly campaign for the position to the extent legally and ethically permitted.

Joint Opinion 14-92/14-94 (released 10/17/14)
DIGEST: For purposes of calculating the start of the applicable Window Period, a candidate for elective judicial office may count back nine months from the date of the earliest official party meeting at which a candidate will be informally designated or endorsed for the position.

Opinion 14-49 (released 7/23/14)
DIGEST: A judge, quasi-judicial official, or candidate for election to judicial office may not attend a not-for-profit organization’s fund-raising event, where the theme of the event, as promoted by the organization, is an exhortation for attendees to “repeal or disregard” a particular statute.

Opinion 13-126 (released 5/28/14)
DIGEST: During the applicable window period, a judicial candidate may use an email signature block on his/her personal email which requests non-financial support from voters and provides links to the campaign committee’s social media page and campaign website.

Joint Opinion 13-137/13-152/13-153 (released 5/30/14)
DIGEST: (1) A judicial candidate’s participation in a joint advertisement, prepared on behalf of a slate of judicial and non-judicial candidates, is not rendered impermissible merely because the advertisement characterizes the slate as a “team” and urges voters to vote for particular row(s) on the ballot on which the slate appears. (2) Use of disclaimer language indicating that the judicial candidate is not publicly endorsing other candidates is not mandatory for any judicial candidate.

Joint Opinion 13-99/13-100 and 13-101/13-102 (released 4/11/14)
DIGEST: (1) Subject to certain limitations as set forth herein, a judicial candidate may pay to attend a political fund-raiser for which no tickets are sold and no standard admission price has been set. (2) A judicial candidate may purchase the lowest priced full-page campaign advertisement in a journal that will be distributed at a political party’s fund-raiser during the candidate’s window period, but may not pay a premium over that price for a more prominently displayed advertisement.

Opinion 13-60 (released 10/16/13)
DIGEST: A judicial candidate who has inadvertently overpaid for an upcoming political event by purchasing a sponsor-level ticket rather than a general admission ticket, and who has requested a refund of the excess payment, need not take any further action.

Opinion 13-64 (released 10/10/13)
DIGEST: Although a judge is disqualified from presiding over matters involving his/her campaign treasurer’s law firm during the judge’s election campaign, the disqualification is subject to remittal.

Opinion 12-172 (released 6/10/13)
DIGEST: A judicial candidate may not use funds raised for his/her Supreme Court race to make purchases which are exclusively related to his/her campaign for a different judicial position, but may use those funds to make generically useful purchases which could be used for either judicial campaign, assuming that the judicial candidate believes in good faith at the time of making the expenditures that his/her campaign for Supreme Court has not ended.

Opinion 12-114 (released 4/2/13)
DIGEST: A judicial candidate may not use a photograph taken at a social event with an elected local public official who is not part of the candidate’s slate and who has not endorsed the candidate, unless the official consents to use of the photograph in the judicial candidate’s campaign.

Opinion 12-97 (released 4/2/13)
DIGEST: A judge or non-judge candidate for election to town or village justice may fully participate as a candidate in a local bar association’s screening process, subject to generally applicable limitations on judicial campaign speech. Thereafter, the judge may preside in a matter in which a member of the panel appears as an attorney, absent any disqualifying factor and assuming the judge can be impartial.

Opinion 12-95(A) (released 8/13/12)
DIGEST: Unexpended campaign funds totaling less than $1,000 need not be returned to contributors on a pro rata basis but may be expended for any lawful non-political purpose connected to judicial office, such as the purchase of office supplies, computer software or books.
STATUS: Overrules Opinion 99-71 and modifies Opinion 07-187.

Opinion 11-65 (released 1/12/12)
DIGEST: To avoid any appearance of undue pressure, a town justice should not ask individual court officers of the town court to publicly support his/her re-election.

Opinion 09-148 (released 12/29/09)
A judicial candidate may not circulate nominating petitions seeking signatures for other candidates unless those petitions also include the judicial candidate's own name.

Opinion 08-40 (released 8/5/08)
DIGEST: A candidate for election to judicial office should not engage in joint fundraising with a candidate for non-judicial office.

Opinion 08-43 (released 7/29/08)
DIGEST: A candidate for election to judicial office who finances his/her entire campaign with personal funds and neither solicits nor accepts any campaign contributions from any source is not ethically required to form a campaign committee.

Opinion 06-162 (released 5/11/07)
DIGEST: (1) A judge must make every reasonable effort to return unexpended campaign funds directly to contributors on a pro-rata basis. (2) A minimal amount of unexpended campaign funds may be used to purchase items not otherwise provided by the Unified Court System or the municipality, for use in the performance of the judge’s judicial duties.
STATUS: Overrules and/or modifies Opinions 04-06, 03-109, 02-27, 95-36, 93-56, and 92-104.

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Multi-Topic Omnibus Opinions (2012 - present)

DIGEST of Joint Opinion 13-99/13-100 and 13-101/13-102:

  1. Subject to certain limitations as set forth herein, a judicial candidate may pay to attend a political fund-raiser for which no tickets are sold and no standard admission price has been set.
  2. A judicial candidate may purchase the lowest priced full-page campaign advertisement in a journal that will be distributed at a political party’s fund-raiser during the candidate’s window period, but may not pay a premium over that price for a more prominently displayed advertisement.

DIGEST of Opinion 12-129(A)-(G):

  1. A judicial candidate may not hire a professional fund-raising consultant who will be paid on a percentage or commission basis.
  2. A judicial candidate may hold a free “meet and greet” event at which modest and reasonable refreshments are served.
  3. A judicial candidate may attend and participate in a politically sponsored golf tournament during his/her window period, subject to limitations on price and number of tickets, and may also purchase campaign advertisements at such events, subject to the fair value rule.
  4. A judicial candidate may comment on an opponent’s conduct, subject to certain limitations.
  5. A judicial candidate who is defeated in the election may use a de minimis amount of unexpended campaign funds for an extremely modest social event to thank persons who significantly volunteered on the candidate’s campaign.

DIGEST of Joint Opinion 12-84/12-95(B)-(G):

  1. A judicial candidate must not be a speaker, guest of honor, or award recipient at a politically sponsored event, unless either (a) the event is not a fund-raiser, or (b) the candidate’s participation is unannounced prior to the event.
  2. To the extent legally permissible, a judicial candidate may use campaign funds to attend bar association functions or other events that are not hosted by political organizations throughout his/her window period, provided that his/her attendance is in furtherance of his/her campaign for judicial office and the candidate determines that he/she will receive fair value for the expenditure.
  3. A judicial candidate may list the name of a sitting judge as a reference for a political party’s screening panel but must not ask a sitting judge to write the panel directly on the candidate’s behalf.
  4. A judicial candidate may permit other individuals to attend his/her fund-raiser without charge, regardless of whether such individuals are currently seeking election to public office.
  5. A judicial candidate may include a link from his/her campaign website to a political organization’s website which contains information promoting the judicial candidate’s campaign.


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