December 11, 2003
NOTE: THE FIRST POINT OF THIS OPINION HAS BEEN OVERRULED BY OPINION 06-162. THE SECOND POINT REMAINS VALID.
Digest: (1) A judge may use unexpended campaign funds to buy, for use in trials, a television set with VCR capability, which would become the property of the Unified Court System. (2) A judge may not donate unexpended campaign funds to a fund that is listed on the New York State Income Tax return as a fund for which a voluntary gift or contribution may be given.
Rules: Election Law 14-130; 22 NYCRR 100.5(A); Opinions 87-02 (Vol. I); 91-79 (Vol. VIII); 91-87 (Vol. VIII); 92-104 (Vol. X); 93-04 (Vol. X); 00-17 (Vol. XIX).
An elected judge inquires whether the judge may use unexpected campaign funds consisting of $800 (1) for purchase of a television set with VCR capability to use in trials, or (2) for a donation to any of the funds for which voluntary contributions may be given that are listed on the New York State Income Tax return, such as the Breast Cancer Research Fund or the Missing/Exploited Children Fund.
Section 14-130 of the Election Law provides that contributions received by a candidate or a political committee “may be expended for any lawful purpose. Such funds shall not be converted by any person to personal use which is unrelated to a political campaign or the holding of a public or party position.” Section 100.5(A) of the Rules Governing Judicial Conduct provides that a candidate for election to 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(A).
This Committee has stated that unexpended campaign funds may be used to buy equipment for use in court or chambers, such as microphones, a facsimile machine, a telephone answering machine, a dictating and transcribing machine, and word-processing and computer equipment, which become the property of the Unified Court system. Opinions 91-87 (Vol. VIII), 92-104 (Vol. X), 93-04 (Vol. X). A judge may not use unexpended campaign funds to buy a word processor for use at home on judicial business, because that may give rise to an appearance of impropriety as a private benefit. Opinion 91-79.
The Committee has stated, however, that a judge may use such funds to purchase a hand-held computer for use in performing judicial duties in the courthouse or at home, even though there might be an occasional, incidental personal entry or non-work notation, just as there might be with the laptop computers that are provided to judges by the courts. But the Committee cautioned that in connection with such incidental personal use the judge must be mindful of Election Law 14-130 and section 105(A). Opinion 00-17 (Vol. XIX).
The Committee is of the opinion that purchase of a television with VCR capability for use in trials is analogous to purchase of a hand-held computer for judicial work and is permissible, except, of course, that the TV/VCR may not be taken home. The same caution relating to personal use would apply. The Committee also repeats the recommendation it made in its Judicial Campaign Ethics Handbook that an item purchased with unexpended campaign funds be specified and donated to the Unified Court System in a letter to the local District Administrative Judge (p. 16).
Donation of unexpended campaign funds to a charitable fund designated in the State tax return is prohibited, despite the State’s involvement, because such an expenditure is unrelated to the judge’s public position and is of private benefit to others. Although the contribution would have a public aspect, the Committee has disapproved donation of unexpended campaign funds “to any charitable fund or organization of any kind.” Opinion 87-02 (Vol. I). (emphasis added).