March 9, 2000
A judge may use unexpended campaign funds to purchase a hand-held computer
for use in performing his or her judicial duties, which then becomes the
property of the State.
Election Law §14-130; 22 NYCRR 100.5(B)(5);
Opinions 93-04 (Vol. X); 92-104 (Vol. X);
91-87 (Vol. VIII).
A judge asks whether it is permissible to use unexpended campaign contributions to purchase a Palm Pilot, i.e., a hand-held computer. It is described as a "smaller, easier to carry but less complete version of the laptop computer presently provided the judge" by the Office of Court Administration. Funds would also be expended for appropriate software. The judge is concerned that while the use of the Palm Pilot would be intended for work-related and court business, personal and family items might also be entered.
This Committee has previously advised that unexpended campaign funds can be used to purchase office equipment and other items for use in chambers or the court that then become the property of the State. See Opinions 93-04 (Vol. X), 92-104 (Vol. X), and 91-87 (Vol. VIII). Such an expenditure "would not constitute a private benefit to the judge" (Opinion 92-104 [Vol. X]) and therefore would not contravene section 14-130 of the Election Law, which forbids the expenditure of campaign funds for personal use which is unrelated to the holding of public office. Similarly, it would not violate section 100.5(B)(5) of the Rules Governing Judicial Conduct which also provides that a candidate for judicial office "shall not use or permit the use of campaign contributions for the private benefit of the candidate or others." 22 NYCRR 100.5(B)(5). Accordingly, since there might occur an occasional, incidental personal entry or non-work notation, the judge should be cognizant of the constraints imposed by Election Law §14-130 and the Rules Governing Judicial Conduct.
Under the circumstances, it is the Committee's opinion that the acquisition, as intended in this instance, is permissible. The Office of Court Administration has itself furnished judges throughout the State with portable lap top computers for the judges' use outside of chambers or the court. The Palm Pilot is no different and when purchased would become the property of the State.