June 7, 2002
Digest: A judge should not continue to serve on a county ethics board that hears complaints with respect to county employees and recommends sanctions.
Rules: 22 NYCRR 100.6(B)(4); Opinions 91-35(Vol. VII); 92-45 (Vol. IX); 01-49.
A part-time judge asks whether it is ethically permissible to continue serving on a county ethics board. The board reviews complaints against county employees and can hold hearings and recommend sanctions. The issues determined by the board would not come before the town court.
A part-time judge may accept public employment that is not incompatible with judicial office and that does not conflict or interfere with the proper performance of the judge’s duties. 22 NYCRR 100.6(B)(4). In Opinions 91-35 (Vol. VII) and 92-45 (Vol IX), this Committee concluded that a part-time judge could serve on a municipality’s ethics committee and a town board of ethics so long as alleged violations of the municipalities’ ethics codes would not come before the judge’s court and so long as the committee’s or board’s activities were not likely to be highly controversial. The Committee concluded, however, in Opinion 01-49 that a part-time judge should not serve on a municipal ethics board that would hear complaints against members of the municipal government, as such a role would inevitably involve the judge in matters of public controversy.
Although the inquiring judge indicates that issues determined by the county ethics board would not come before the judge’s court, the judge also indicates that the board can hold hearings and recommend sanctions. Clearly, the imposition of such sanctions could well lead to court action. And, although, such matters may not come before the judge’s court, they do place the judge in an adversarial role as a governmental official which we believe is incompatible with judicial office. The judge, therefore, should not continue serving on the county ethics board.