January 29, 2015
Digest: A judge need not object to the county executive’s proposal to mention, during an upcoming state of the county address, that the judge is a satisfied user of a county-run public transportation system.
Rules: 22 NYCRR 100.2; 100.2(A); 100.2(C); 100.5(A)(1); 100.5(A)(1)(e); Opinion 12-49.
The inquiring judge has learned that the county executive wishes to mention during an upcoming state of the county address that the judge uses a county-run public transit system, and that the judge “find[s] the service to be quite good, or words to that effect.” The Committee understands the county executive will be “touting” the system and plans to mention the judge by name.
A judge must always avoid even the appearance of impropriety (see 22 NYCRR 100.2) and must always act to promote public confidence in the judiciary’s integrity and impartiality (see 22 NYCRR 100.2[A]). A judge must not lend the prestige of judicial office to advance the private interests of the judge or others (22 NYCRR 100.2[C]) and must not engage in partisan political activity except as expressly permitted by the Rules Governing Judicial Conduct (see generally 22 NYCRR 100.5[A]). Among other restrictions, a sitting judge may not publicly endorse any candidate for public office (see 22 NYCRR 100.5[A][e]).
In Opinion 12-49, the Committee advised that a judge may preside over a mock video arraignment for educational purposes during a county executive’s state of the county speech. Of particular note, Opinion 12-49 states:
The Committee recognizes that the county executive is an elected public official and that the state of the county address may be designed to further his/her particular non-judicial policy goals or initiatives and also to highlight the county executive’s accomplishments in hopes of furthering his/her political career. It is nonetheless essentially a public event, much like the swearing in of public officials, which the judge may attend without engaging in impermissible political activity (cf. Joint Opinion 09-240/09-241/10-06).
Under the circumstances presented, the Committee concluded that neither the judge’s presence at the state of the union address nor the judge’s proposed participation in the mock video arraignment, without more, would create any reasonable public perception that the judge is endorsing the county executive or his/her policies (see Opinion 12-49).
Here, too, the Committee sees the county executive’s proposed reference to the judge’s positive experience with the local public transit system, in these circumstances, creates no reasonable public perception the judge is impermissibly endorsing the county executive or his/her policies (cf. Opinion 12-49). Thus, the judge need not object to the executive’s proposal to mention, in an upcoming state of the county address, that the judge is a satisfied user of a county-run public transportation system.