January 7, 2011
This responds to your inquiry (10-143) asking whether you would be responsible for a breach of judicial ethics if the majority partners in your law firm erect a political sign supporting a candidate running for election to public office despite your objection to the sign. You advise that you and the partners jointly own the land and building that houses your law firm, but that you are a minority owner.
A judge is prohibited from engaging in partisan political activity except his/her own campaign for elective judicial office(see 22 NYCRR 100.5[A][c]) and from publicly endorsing or opposing (other than by running against) another candidate for public office (see 22 NYCRR 100.5[A][e]). The Committee has advised that a part-time judge whose law firm is the primary lessee of space in an office building should ask his/her landlord to remove signs from the leased property that endorse political candidates (see Opinion 07-167). However, the Committee acknowledged that a judge who is a tenant or lessee may have no authority to prevent political candidates from placing signs on rental property and advised the judge to make every reasonable attempt to prevent political candidates from doing so (see id.). Similarly, as you own a minority interest in the law firm’s property, you should take every reasonable step to notify your partners in an effort to persuade them not to erect a political sign on the law firm property over your objection.
I have enclosed a copy of Opinion 07-167 for your convenience.