Opinion 13-126

October 24, 2013


Digest:         During the applicable window period, a judicial candidate may use an email signature block on his/her personal email which requests non-financial support from voters and provides links to the campaign committee’s social media page and campaign website.


Rules:          22 NYCRR 100.0(Q); 100.5(A)(1); 100.5(A)(1)(h); 100.5(A)(2); 100.5(A)(2)(I); 100.5(A)(4)(a); 100.5(A)(5); Joint Opinion 12-84/12-95[B]-[G]; Opinions 11-65; 08-176; 08-152; 08-43; 07-135; 05-101; 01-44 (Vol. XX); 99-155 (Vol. XVIII).


         A sitting judge who is currently a judicial candidate asks whether he/she may, during his/her window period, use an email signature block for his/her personal email that provides links to his/her campaign committee’s social media page and campaign website, with language such as:


“Please support me in my campaign for [position]!

Like us on Facebook: [Committee Name]

[campaign website address]”

         A judge or non-judge who is a candidate for public election to judicial office may participate in his/her own campaign during his/her window period, subject to certain limitations (see 22 NYCRR 100.5[A][1]-[2]; see also 22 NYCRR 100.0[Q] [defining “window period”]). For example, a judicial candidate must act in a manner consistent with the impartiality, integrity and independence of the judiciary throughout his/her campaign (see 22 NYCRR 100.5[A][4][a]), may contribute to his/her own campaign as permitted by law (see 22 NYCRR 100.5[A][2]), and may authorize a committee of responsible persons to solicit and accept funds for his/her campaign (see 22 NYCRR 100.5[A][5]).

         A judicial candidate’s campaign committee may maintain a campaign website on behalf of the candidate during the applicable window period (see generally 22 NYCRR 100.5[A][5]; Joint Opinion 12-84/12-95[B]-[G]; Opinion 07-135). For example, the Committee has advised that a judicial candidate may authorize his/her campaign committee to solicit campaign contributions on a website it sponsors, provided that the contributors are directed to send all donations to the campaign committee and not to the candidate him/herself (see Opinion 07-135). Such campaign websites may include a profile on a social network or other social media presence (cf. Opinion 08-176 [noting that Committee could not “discern anything inherently inappropriate about a judge joining and making use of a social network”]).

         Moreover, although a judicial candidate may not personally solicit or accept campaign funds (see 22 NYCRR 100.5[A][1][h]; 100.5[A][2][I]; Opinion 08-43), the Rules Governing Judicial Conduct do not prohibit a candidate from personally soliciting and accepting non-financial support. Of particular note, the Committee has advised that a judicial candidate may personally solicit endorsements for his/her election during the judge’s window period (see Opinions 11-65 [discussing prior opinions]; 01-44 [Vol. XX] [candidate may personally seek the endorsement of the Police Benevolent Association and other organizations]).1 By analogy, the Committee concludes that a judicial candidate may personally request that voters “like” a social media site maintained by the candidate’s campaign committee, as this is a request for non-financial support of the candidate.

         Therefore, it is ethically permissible for the inquiring judicial candidate to use the proposed email signature block on his/her personal email during the applicable window period, as the signature block merely requests non-financial support from voters and provides links to campaign websites maintained by the judicial candidate’s campaign committee (see generally 22 NYCRR 100.5[A][2]; 100.5[A][5]; Opinion 01-44 [Vol. XX]).2


     1 In personally soliciting non-financial support, a judicial candidate must take care to avoid the appearance of impropriety (see e.g. Opinions 11-65 [judge who is a judicial candidate should not personally solicit endorsements from individual court officers who work in the judge’s court, as this could create an appearance of undue pressure on public employees who might otherwise expect their employment to be completely independent of the outcome of a specific judge’s re-election campaign]; 08-152 [judge who is a judicial candidate may ask attorneys who regularly appear before him/her to attend a reception and speak to attendees about their experience appearing before him/her as a judge, as long as he/she takes care to avoid any appearance of undue pressure on the attorneys in making this request]).

     2 The Committee notes that, to avoid any impression that the courthouse is being used for political purposes, a judicial candidate who is a sitting judge should not include a campaign message in the signature block for his/her Unified Court System email (see Opinions 05-101 [noting “the danger of a public perception of entanglement of the judiciary itself in the political process”]; 99-155 [Vol. XVIII] [judge may not use court stationery in a re-election campaign, even if the stationery is marked “personal and unofficial”]).