July 6, 2004
Digest: A town justice need not disqualify him/herself in a proceeding in which an officer of a political party that designated that judge for judicial office is likely to be a material witness.
Rules: 22 NYCRR 100.3(E)(1); Opinions 89-107 (Vol. IV); 91-131 (Vol. VIII); 94-12 (Vol. XII);95-156 (Vol. XIV); 97-129 (Vol. XVI).
A motion has been made to a town justice seeking the judge’s recusal. One of the witnesses in the matter before the judge was, and remains, an officer of a county political party that had designated the justice for that office. To the judge’s knowledge, the party official played no role in the judge’s campaign. The judge seeks the guidance of this Committee regarding the obligation, if any, for disqualification in this matter.
The Rules Governing Judicial Conduct require that a judge disqualify him/herself in any proceeding in which the judge’s impartiality might reasonably be questioned. 22 NYCRR 100.3(E)(1). Although in prior opinions, this Committee counseled judges to disclose and in some cases disqualify themselves from presiding over matters involving particular individuals who participated in the judge’s campaign for judicial office, those opinions involved individuals who played or were playing an active and significant role in the judge’s campaign as, for example, campaign manager, campaign coordinator, finance chair, or treasurer, See e.g., Opinions 89-107 (Vol. IV); 91-131 (Vol. VIII); 94-12 (Vol. XII); 95-156 (Vol. XIV); 97-129 (Vol. XVI). In this situation, the party official did not play any specific role in the judge’s campaign beyond being an officer in the party that designated the judge.
It is the Committee’s opinion that, under these circumstances, the judge’s impartiality may not reasonably be questioned, and therefore the judge is not disqualified and need not exercise recusal.