January 25, 1996
Digest: A judge may preside in matters where a party is represented (a) by the judge’s former campaign manager, or (b) by a partner of the judge’s former campaign manager, subject, in the former case, to a two-year disclosure requirement. The judge need not recuse himself from cases where a party is represented by the mayor of the city, whose 1987 and 1989 campaigns were managed by the judge, and who later appointed the judge to the position of corporation counsel, subject to a disclosure requirement.
Rules: 22 NYCRR 16.1; 22NYCRR 100.3(c)
A county court judge who presides in the county, family and surrogate’s courts inquires whether his former campaign manager, an attorney, is barred from practicing before him/her. We adhere to our opinions 89-107 and 90-182, in the former of which we stated, in part:
Basically, once the campaign is terminated, the justice should continue to disqualify himself or herself whenever the attorney who has been the justice’s campaign manager appears, for as long as the justice feels that he or she cannot be impartial. If and when the justice concludes that he or she would be impartial and considering all relevant factors, including but not limited to the length of time since the campaign ended (perhaps using the two-year period of 22 NYCRR 16.1 of the Rules of the Chief Judge as a guide) the justice chooses not be disqualify himself or herself, then the justice must reveal on the record his or her prior relationship with the attorney. If any party objects, the justice should consider seriously disqualifying himself or herself, and should do so, unless the justice thinks the objection is frivolous, in bad faith, or is wholly without merit.
The judge also inquires whether his/her former campaign manager’s partners are barred from appearing before him/her. In Opinion 94-12, we stated that the partners of a judge’s campaign manager may practice before the judge even during the campaign, provided the “campaign manage is not involved in the case”. The same applies a fortiori after the campaign is over. If the campaign manager is involved in the case in any way, then the issue of the judge’s recusal during the two year post-campaign period should be governed by the criteria outlined above.
The judge also inquires whether her/she should recuse himself/herself in cases where there is to be an appearance by an attorney who, in 1987 and 1989, ran for and was elected to, the office of mayor of the city, whose two campaigns the judge managed, and who later appointed the judge to serve as corporation counsel. Neither the fact that the mayor previously appointed the judge to the position of corporation counsel nor the fact that the judge served as the mayor’s campaign manager over two years ago, requires automatic recusal, in accordance with the rules outlined above (see, also, Opinion 90-21). However, the better practice would be for the judge to reveal the relationship to adverse counsel, and preside only in the absence of a non-frivolous objection (see, Opinion 90-21, supra).