January 25, 2007
Digest: (1) A newly elected full-time judge may continue to place newspaper advertisements in recognition of national holidays and other events, but such advertisements should not resemble those placed by the judge’s former law office. (2) The judge should not place radio or billboard messages extending greetings to the public. (3) The judge may perform ministerial and administrative functions necessary to wrap-up his/her law practice and should retain records as required by law or the Code of Professional Responsibility.
Rules: 22 NYCRR 100.2(C); 100.4(A)(2); 100.5(A)(2)(ii); 100.5(G); 1200.46(d); Opinions 02-25; 96-46 (Vol. XIV).
A former part-time City Court Judge advises that he/she will shortly become a full-time judge and will be winding down his/her solo private law office. The judge states that for many years, he/she has placed advertisements in newspapers recognizing national holidays and special occasions such as Memorial Day, Mothers’ Day, and Veterans’ Day. Since the late 1980's, these advertisements have been accompanied by a logo associated with his/her law office. The judge further advises that he/she has been a long-standing “sports booster”, sponsoring billboards at local baseball diamonds and 30-second radio spots during sports events, which generally congratulate and encourage local high school teams. The judge inquires whether he/she may, after ascending to the bench, (1) continue to run such print advertisements, (2) use his/her law office logo on advertisements, calling cards, or private stationery, (3) place sports-related radio spots, (4) purchase billboard space, and (4) perform administrative and record-keeping activities relating to the winding down of his/her law office.
The Committee concludes that the inquirer may, under the circumstances, continue to place newspaper announcements containing a seasonally-appropriate greeting to the public from the judge, provided that it complies with section 100.4 of the Rules Governing Judicial Conduct, including the requirement that a judge must conduct all of his/her activities so that they do not detract from the dignity of judicial office. 22 NYCRR 100.4(A)(2); Opinion 02-25. The design should not, however, resemble advertisements placed by the inquirer’s former law office, and it would not be appropriate to continue to use the same logo that the inquirer used for the law practice. Cf. 22 NYCRR 100.2(C).
The inquirer should not place advertisements on billboards at ballfields or other venues. Opinion 96-46 (Vol. XIV). Because of their highly visible and semi-permanent location, the billboards effectively constitute “media advertisements supporting (the judge’s) candidacy” under the Rules, and are thus impermissible outside the judge’s Window Period. 22 NYCRR 100.5(A)(2)(ii). Nor should the inquirer continue to sponsor sports-related radio broadcasts, because the public backing of sporting events may appear to lend the prestige of judicial office to advance the private interests of particular sports teams and is not in keeping with the dignity of judicial office. 22 NYCRR 100.2(C); 100.4(A)(2).
Finally, the Committee advises that although the inquirer may not practice law once he/she becomes a full-time judge, he/she may continue activities necessary to wind up his/her former law office, such as filing tax forms and unemployment forms for employees, organizing and storing financial records, as may be required by applicable law and/or the Code of Professional Responsibility. E.g., 22 NYCRR 100.5(G); 22 NYCRR 1200.46[d].