October 18, 2007
Digest: A part-time judge who is not a candidate for judicial office, may not send a letter to local newspapers that includes an expression of his/her gratitude to the voters for electing him/her to judicial office.
Rules: 22 NYCRR 100.0(Q); 100.5(A)(1), (2); Opinion 02-06.
A part-time judge asks if it is ethically permissible to send a letter to local newspapers thanking voters for electing him/her to office, and discussing “general development” and activities of the court. The judge advises that he/she is midway through a 4-year term of office, and acknowledges that he/she must refrain from discussing particular cases.
A judge shall not directly or indirectly engage in political activity except as authorized by law or the Rules, to vote and identify him/herself as a member of a political party, and on behalf of measures to improve the law, the legal system or the administration justice (see 22 NYCRR 100.5[A]). A judge who is a candidate for judicial office, however, may participate in his/her own campaign during his/her window period (see 22 NYCRR 100.0[Q]; 100.5[A]).
This Committee previously has advised that sending a letter by his/her judicial campaign committee to those who contributed to a judge’s campaign to thank them for their financial support is political activity that must be concluded during the judicial candidate’s window period (see Opinion 02-06). Although the letter the inquiring judge proposes to send would include otherwise permissible information, any reference to the judge’s election renders the letter political in nature, and the judge, therefore, could send it only during his/her window period.
Because the judge is midway through a 4-year term of office, he/she is not within his/her window period, and sending the proposed letter would be impermissible.