June 18, 1999
A judge, who is not currently a candidate for judicial office, should advise
his or her spouse not to place signs endorsing political candidates on
the house or other parts of the real property where the judge and spouse
reside, even if the spouse is the sole owner of the property.
22 NYCRR 100.2(C); 100.5(A)(1)(d) and (e);
Opinion 96-112 (Vol. XIV).
A judge, who is not currently a candidate for judicial office, asks if the judge's spouse may display a sign endorsing political candidates on the house or other parts of the real property where the judge and spouse reside. The spouse is the sole owner of the property.
In Opinion 96-112 (Vol. XIV), the inquiring judge asked if it was proper
for a sign endorsing a legislative candidate to be placed on property jointly-owned
by the judge and his/her spouse. The spouse was a member of a political
party's county committee and had long been independently active in partisan
politics. The candidate had asked the spouse to place the sign on the property.
The Committee responded as follows:
Although the judge's spouse has established an independent political identity, the placement of the sign may create the impression that the judge concurs with spouse's endorsement of the candidate. As previously addressed in Opinion 90-77, it could reasonably be inferred under such circumstances, that the judge is lending the prestige of judicial office to advance the private interests of the candidate whose name appears on the sign which would be in violation of section 100.2(C) of the Rules Governing Judicial Conduct; and, further, that the judge is directly or indirectly supporting the candidate, thereby violating section 100.5(A)(1)(d) and (e) of the Rules which prohibits such political activity. (22 NYCRR Part 100).
The sole difference between Opinion 96-112 (Vol. XIV), and the present inquiry, is that here the spouse is the sole owner of the property. But we are of the opinion that this fact, while it may affect the capacity of the judge to take dispositive action, does not mitigate the dangers perceived in Opinion 96-112 (Vol. XIV). The perception of a judicial endorsement and the lending of the prestige of judicial office to advance the private interests of others are present, regardless of whose name happens to be recorded on the deed to the property. It is, after all, where the judge resides and is likely to be known as such in the community. Accordingly, the judge should advise the spouse of such concerns and how the judge may possibly be affected, and strongly urge that the sign not be placed on the property.