March 7, 2002
Digest: (1) A judge should not write a column for a newspaper in which the judge publishes legal notices. (2) A full-time judge who had been appointed referee in a mortgage foreclosure action prior to taking the bench may sign a consent to discontinue and cancel a lis pendens in that action (3) A judge's campaign committee cannot hold, and a judge cannot attend, an event to raise funds to retire campaign debt which is held after the expiration of the Window Period.
Rules: 22 NYCRR 100.0(Q); 100.2(A); 100.2(C); 100.4(G);100.5(A)(1); 100.5(A)(5); Opinions 96-89 (Vol. XIV); 93-20 (Vol. X); 91-67 (Vol. VII).
A judge asks the following questions: (1) Is it ethically permissible to write a column about wills and estates for a local newspaper which the judge sometimes uses to publish legal notices? (2) May a full-time judge who had been appointed a referee in a mortgage foreclosure action prior to assuming the bench sign a consent to discontinue and cancel a lis pendens in that action? (3) Is it ethically permissible for a newly elected judge's campaign committee to hold fund-raisers to retire campaign debt and, if so, may the judge attend those fund-raiser, held after the judge's Window Period expires?
With respect to writing the newspaper column, a judge must always act ". . . in a manner that promotes public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary." 22 NYCRR 100.2(A). Furthermore, a judge "shall not lend the prestige of judicial office to advance the private interests of the judge or others; nor shall a judge convey or permit others to convey the impression that they are in a special position to influence the judge." 22 NYCRR 100.2(C). Although, in general, writing a column about wills and estates would be permissible, and would not violate those provisions, the Committee believes that under the circumstances presented, it would be improper for a judge to do so for a newspaper which the judge must use to publish legal notices. The danger of a public perception of a quid pro quo arrangement (however mistaken) is of sufficient weight to render it inadvisable for the judge to undertake to write such a column.
With respect to the second inquiry, a full-time judge is prohibited from practicing law. 22 NYCRR 100.4(G). However, as this Committee concluded in Opinion 96-89 (Vol.XIV), in view of the fact that a referee in a mortgage foreclosure action need not be admitted to practice law, and the remaining tasks to be completed were ministerial, a full-time judge who had been appointed a referee in a foreclosure action before assuming the bench could "complete the ministerial function of executing the referee's deed and related papers necessary to accomplish the transfer of title of real property arising out of services rendered as a referee, prior to the time the judge assumed the bench." We believe that the present situation is sufficiently similar as to warrant the same result. Thus, the judge in the present inquiry may sign a consent to discontinue and cancel a lis pendens, provided it is the judge's last act as referee and there is no compensation for doing so.
With respect to the final
inquiry, judges are prohibited from engaging in political activities except
during the Window Period applicable to a judge's election campaign for
judicial office. 22 NYCRR 100.0(Q);100.5 (A)(1). Such activities, however,
must cease upon expiration of the Window Period notwithstanding any unpaid
campaign debts. 22 NYCRR 100.0(Q); Opinions 93-020 (Vol. X); 91-67 (Vol.
VII). Accordingly, the judge should instruct the campaign committee not
to undertake any such function, which, in any event, the judge could not