January 25, 2007
Digest: A judge may purchase space in a local newspaper for greetings to the public on holidays or other special occasions, provided that the content of the message is consistent with the dignity of judicial office.
Rules: 22 NYCRR 100.4; 100.5(A)(2)(ii); Opinions 05-153; 96-46 (Vol. XIV); 94-25 (Vol. XII); Joint Opinion 92-70 and 92-84 (Vol. X).
A full-time judge, who is also the district administrative judge, states that he/she received a solicitation from a local newspaper offering to sell advertising space to the judge to display his/her photograph with a holiday greeting. The judge is not within his/her Window Period and seeks guidance in determining whether such a greeting would constitute impermissible political activity.
This Committee has previously considered whether a judge may purchase space in souvenir booklets, publications or journals of various charitable or professional organizations, for the purpose of extending congratulatory statements or other published messages. Such activity was deemed permissible even where charitable fund-raising was the sole purpose for producing many of these publications. Opinions 05-153; 96-46 (Vol. XIV); 94-25 (Vol. XII); Joint Opinion 92-70 and 92-84 (Vol. X). In these opinions, the Committee concluded that the Rules Governing Judicial Conduct do not prohibit a judge from placing such congratulatory notices in connection with charitable functions. We now consider whether a judge may place similar notices in a newspaper absent any connection with a charitable endeavor.
Under the circumstances this inquiry presents, where the message is simply a seasonally-appropriate greeting to the public (e.g., “Merry Christmas and a very Happy New Year to everyone in [location], Judge _________”), the Committee deems this type of greeting ethically permissible. In reaching this conclusion, the Committee notes the message does not constitute a “media advertisement supporting his or her candidacy” under the Rules. 22 NYCRR 100.5(A)(2)(ii). It therefore does not constitute political activity, which is allowable only during a Judge’s Window Period. The Committee also notes that the notice will only appear for a short time. Compare Opinion 96-46 (prohibiting an advertisement of the judge’s sponsorship of a Little League field in a “highly visible and semi-permanent location”).
The Committee adds, however, that an advertisement containing a seasonally-appropriate greeting must nevertheless comply with section 100.4 of the Rules, requiring a judge to conduct all of his/her activities in a manner consistent with the dignity of judicial office. 22 NYCRR 100.4(A)(2).