April 19, 2001
Please Note: Opinion 01-50 is overruled by Opinion 08-33
Digest: A part-time judge should not write a letter to the editor of a local newspaper in support of a school expansion project that is to be voted on by the residents of the school district.
Rule: 22 NYCRR 100.2; 100.2©; 100.4(C)(1); Opinions 98-160 (Vol. XVII); 00-33.
A part-time judge inquires as to the propriety of writing a letter to the editor of a local newspaper supporting a multi-million dollar school expansion project to be voted on by school district residents. The judge further asks whether it would be permissible to work behind the scenes with a group of parents and others supporting the project.
Although a part-time judge is not required to comply with the restrictions of full-time judges set forth in section 100.4(C)(1) of the Rules Governing Judicial Conduct concerning appearances at public hearings, he or she is bound by section 100.2 of the Rules. This rule requires that "A judge shall avoid impropriety and the appearance of impropriety in all of the judge’s activities."
Thus, the Committee has previously advised that a part-time judge, serving as a trustee of a local library, should not participate in activities associated with a committee to set up a special library district, since the activities involved prohibited lobbying efforts. Opinion 98-160 (Vol XVII). In another opinion, the Committee, in responding to an inquiry from a part-time judge regarding the seeking of support for a library expansion bond issue, indicated that the encouragement of the public to vote for the appropriation of funds would constitute prohibited activity. Opinion 00-33. In all such instances, the judge is taking a public stand on a matter that is likely to involve controversy in the community. Such activity is, in our view, incompatible with the status of being a judge and should be avoided. 22 NYCRR 100.4(A)(3).
Accordingly, whether the judge is writing a letter to the editor urging support by the voters for the capital project, or working behind the scenes, the Committee concludes that there would be an appearance of impropriety and the judge should not undertake the activities specified.