Opinion 00-52

June 13, 2000


NOTE: The Chief Judge’s rules concerning dual employment and political activities of nonjudicial court employees now appear at 22 NYCRR 50.3 and 50.5, respectively.  For guidance on Part 50 (formerly Part 25), court personnel may consult the Office of Court Administration’s Nonjudicial Ethics Helpline (888-283-8442).


Digest:         A full-time law secretary to a Supreme Court justice may accept appointment as a member of a local community board.


Rule:            22 NYCRR 25.37; 25.39; 100.5(C); Opinions 97-69 (Vol. XV); 90-27 (Vol. V).


         A Supreme Court justice inquires whether the justice's personal law secretary may accept appointment to and serve as an unsalaried member of a community board within the City of New York. Such boards serve as advisory panels in zoning and other land use issues, community planning, city budget planning and coordination of municipal services. Community boards meet monthly, during evening hours, so that service as a board member would not conflict with the law secretary's normal working hours.

         Three Rules need to be considered in answering this inquiry. Section 100.5(C) of the Rules Governing Judicial Conduct governs the political activity of a judge's personally appointed staff. Section 25.37(a) of the Rules of the Chief Judge prohibits certain activities by non-judicial employees. In interpreting the first mentioned Rule, this Committee has adhered to the policy that a judge must prohibit staff appointed by the judge (including law secretaries) from engaging in those political activities specially prohibited by the Rules, and that, in the absence of special circumstances, any activity not specifically prohibited by the Rules is permitted. Under that policy, this Committee has determined that a full-time law secretary to a judge may serve on a citizen's advisory committee (Opinion 90-27 [Vol. V]) and a municipal school board (Opinion 97-69 [Vol. XV]) so long as these activities did not interfere with the law secretary's duties to the court. Since service on a municipal community board is not specifically prohibited by section 100.5(C) or section 25.39, the law secretary here may accept appointment to such board, with the same condition that such service not interfere with the secretary's full-time employment in the Unified Court System. Needless to say, should any matter involving the community board come before the judge, the law secretary must be completely insulated from any involvement in the judge's handling of it.

         Section 27.37(a) of the Rules of the Chief Judge governs activities of all full-time non-judicial employees, and requires that prior to accepting appointment or employment in any other position on a full or part-time basis in another state or municipal agency for which compensation or salary is payable, the employee obtain permission in writing from the Chief Administrator of the Courts. Since the inquiry indicates that community board members receive no salary or other compensation, such permission would not be required.