June 9, 2006
Digest: A full-time judge may speak at public hearings and write to elected officials about a proposed power line that will be located about one quarter mile from the judge’s house, as long as the judge expresses his/her views solely as a private citizen whose personal interests will be affected, does not use official stationery, and does not refer to his/her office.
Rules: 22 NYCRR 100.4(C)(1); Opinions 04-24; 02-116; 02-41; 97-36 (Vol. XV);92-21 (Vol. IX).
A full-time judge asks whether it is ethically permissible to speak at public hearings and to write public officials concerning the proposed construction of a power line that would be located about one quarter mile from the judge’s house.
A full-time judge is prohibited from appearing “at a public hearing before an executive or legislative body or official except on matters concerning the law, the legal system or the administration of justice or except when acting pro se in a matter involving the judge or the judge’s interests.” 22 NYCRR 100.4(C)(1). Applying that provision, this Committee has previously advised that a judge may voice his/her opinion at a Planning Board meeting about a proposal to rezone commercial property located near property owned by the judge [Opinion 92-21 (Vol. IX)]; publicly voice an opinion at local municipal board meetings concerning community matters that affect the judge’s personal interests (Opinion 02-41); and speak about a proposed zoning change at various public forums to the extent that the proposed zoning change will affect the judge’s property (Opinion 02-116). A judge also may write to the State Division of Transportation to express support for installation of a traffic light to ease congestion on a road near the judge’s home and may write a letter to the New York State Liquor Authority opposing renewal of a liquor license for an establishment located near the judge’s residence (Opinion 04-24).
Based on the foregoing, we conclude that in the present instance, the judge may speak at public hearings and write to elected officials about the proposed power line, as long as the judge expresses his/her views as a private citizen whose personal interests will be affected. When writing letters, the judge should not use official stationery and should not refer to his/her judicial office (Opinion 02-116).