October 18, 2007
Digest: (1) A judge who is a candidate for judicial office may include a link on his/her campaign website to published newspaper articles about the judge. (2) A judge who is a candidate for judicial office may include photographs of the judge on his/her campaign website that a photographer took in the courtroom during a public trial and that were thereafter published by a newspaper. (3) A judge’s campaign committee may solicit donations on a campaign website it sponsors, provided that contributions will go directly to the campaign committee.
Rules: 22 NYCRR 100.5(A)(2); 100.5(A)(4)(a); 100.5(A)(4)(d)(iii); 100.5(A)(5); Opinion 05-101; Matter of Kulkin (Comm on Jud Conduct, Slip Op [March 23, 2006].
A judge who is a candidate for election to another judicial office asks the following questions about permissible content on a campaign website:
(1)Is it permissible for the judge to include links on his/her campaign website to a newspaper article about the judge;
(2)May the judge include photographs on his/her website or in campaign literature that were taken in the judge’s courtroom during a public trial and published in the newspaper; and,
(3)May the judge’s campaign website be used to solicit campaign contributions?
A judge may participate in his/her own campaign for judicial office, and in doing so may bring to the public’s attention, truthfully and without distortion, matters of public record about the candidate. 22 NYCRR 100.5(A)(2); 100.5(A)(4)(d)(iii); Matter of Kulkin, NYS Commission on Judicial Conduct (3/23/06) (noting that there is no place for distortions in a campaign for judicial office). The candidate also may establish a campaign committee to conduct his/her campaign through media advertisements, brochures, mailings, candidate forums and other means not prohibited by law. 22 NYCRR 100.5(A)(5). The inquiring judge, therefore, may include a link on his/her campaign website to newspaper articles about the judge, provided that nothing contained in the article is misleading and provided that the article maintains the dignity of judicial office. Id.; 22 NYCRR 100.5(A)(4)(a).
Further, as the courtroom may not be used for political purposes, “care must be taken to avoid using photographs that might convey the impression that the courthouse is being used for political purposes and, in particular, to facilitate the candidacy of a sitting judge.” Opinion 05-101. In the present inquiry, however, it is the Committee’s view that the judge may include photographs of the judge on his/her campaign website that a photographer took in the courtroom during a public trial and that were thereafter published by a newspaper.
Finally, while a judge or non-judge candidate for judicial office is prohibited from personally soliciting or accepting contributions to his/her campaign, the candidate may establish “a committee of responsible persons to solicit and/or accept reasonable campaign contributions and support from the public...” 22 NYCRR 100.5(A)(5). Therefore, while a judge may not solicit campaign contributions on his/her own website, the judge’s campaign committee may do so on a website it sponsors, provided that the contributors are directed to send all donations to the campaign committee and not to the judge him/herself.