October 27, 2005
Digest: A candidate for judicial office may sign a “Statement of Principles,” sent to him/her by the local chapter of the League of Women Voters, pledging that the candidate intends to use fair campaign principles throughout the campaign, but the candidate should inform the organization that his or her participation in any debates is governed by the standards and specific requirements set forth in the Rules Governing Judicial Conduct .
Rules: 22 NYCRR 100.5(A)(4)(d)(i) and (ii).
An incumbent judge, running for re-election, has asked whether it would be permissible to sign a “Statement of Principles” pledging that the candidate intends to use fair campaign practices during his/her campaign. This pledge was sent to both judicial and non-judicial candidates for elective office by the local League of Women Voters, a non-partisan political organization. The pledge, generally, required candidates to commit to engage in fair campaign practices, such as conducting their campaign fairly and truthfully, avoiding misleading attacks, disavowing any appeal to prejudice, and refusing to use or permit the use of any campaign materials which might include false or misleading facts about an opponent.
As a general matter, the principles embodied in this pledge are obviously commendable with respect to all campaigns for elective public office. That being said, judicial candidates are bound by the standards and specific requirements set forth in the Rules Governing Judicial Conduct (“Rules”). Therefore, the candidate may comply only with those provisions of the pledge that are in accord with the Rules.
Of particular concern is the statement in the pledge that the candidate will “discuss the issues and participate in a fair debate with respect to his/her views and qualifications.” Specifically, with respect to discussing issues and participating in debates, 22 NYCRR 100.5(A)(4)(d) of the Rules provides that a candidate for judicial office shall not “(i) make pledges or promises of conduct in office other than the faithful and impartial performance of the duties of the office” nor “(ii) make statements that commit or appear to commit the candidate with respect to cases, controversies or issues that are likely to come before the court.”
Accordingly, in our opinion, the inquiring judge may sign the above-described pledge, but should inform the issuing organization that, as a candidate for judicial office, he or she must comply with the Rules, and that such compliance may constrain his or her participation in any debate.