September 19, 1988
Topic: May a judge serve as a member or officer of a local bar association that ranks judicial candidates?
Digest: A judge may be a member or officer of a local bar association that ranks candidates for judicial office, buy may not participate in the rating process, and should make such nonparticipation clear so as to avoid any appearance of impropriety.
Rules: 22 NYCRR §§100.4(c), 100.7(e); Canons 2, 4 and 7 of the Code of Judicial Conduct.
A City Court Judge has inquired as to the propriety of serving as a member or officer of a bar association that reviews and reports on the qualifications of judicial candidates. The inquiring judge is a member of a local bar association that circulates a questionnaire among its membership concerning candidates for judicial office and, based on he response, a committee rates the candidates as “highly qualified,” “qualified,” or “not qualified.” The committee may rank more than one candidate for a particular office in the same category. Candidates use favorable ratings in their campaigns.
The question addressed by this advisory opinion is under what conditions, if any, a judge may serve as a member or officer of a bar association that ranks judicial candidates.
22 NYCRR 100.4(c) state that:
A judge may serve as a member, officer, or director of an organization or governmental agency devoted to the improvement of the law, the legal system or the administration of justice....
The commentaries to Canon 4 of the Code of Judicial conduct make it clear that a judge’s serving as a member or officer in a bar association is to be encouraged.
22 NYCRR 100.7 prohibits a judge from endorsing a candidate for political office. Since a local bar association’s rating of a candidate may be used by that candidate’s organization as an “endorsement” for campaign purposes, a judge’s participation in the rating process could be construed as a political endorsement. This possibility is especially true if the judge is an officer in the bar association or a member of the rating committee, whose name may appear on documents related to the rating process or results.
Canon 2 states that “ a judge must avoid even the appearance of impropriety.” The judge should not participate in the rating process, and in order to avoid even the appearance of such participation, the local bar association should make it clear by affirmatively stating in all matter dealing with the subject of judicial candidate evaluations that judicial members of the organization do not participate in the rating process in any way. Additionally, in the event that a judicial member’s name appears on the association’s letterhead, his name should be deleted from any written matters concerning candidate rating.
This opinion is advisory only and does not bind either the Office of Court Administration of the Commission on Judicial Conduct.