June 10, 2010
Digest: A judge’s law clerk who is not a candidate for election to public office and who already has made $500 in political contributions during a calendar year may not purchase additional tickets to political functions held during the same calendar year even if the amount the law clerk pays for a ticket equals the actual cost of his/her attendance only and does not include a contribution to a political campaign or other partisan political activity.
Rules: 22 NYCRR 50.1(I)(C); 50.2(c); 100.3(C)(2); 100.5(C)(1)-(4); Opinions 07-189; 07-11.
A judge advises that his/her law clerk has already made political contributions totaling $500 this year, but wishes to continue to attend political events. The judge asks whether he/she may permit the law clerk to attend political fund-raisers when someone else purchases a ticket for his/her law clerk. The judge also asks whether he/she may permit the law clerk to purchase a ticket to a political fund-raiser “if [the law clerk] obtains a statement from the sponsor or organizer that the price [the law clerk] is paying is only the proportionate cost of the function for one individual.”
A judge’s personal appointee is prohibited from engaging in certain political activity (see 22 NYCRR 50.2[c]; 100.5[C]-; Opinion 07-11 [summarizing prior opinions about political activities by a judge’s law clerk]). The prohibitions include limitations on contributions to political campaigns and in support of other partisan political activity (see 22 NYCRR 100.5[C]; Opinion 07-189 [discussing exceptions for personal appointee who is running for election to public office]). In particular, a judge must:
prohibit members of the judge’s staff who are the judge’s personal appointees from ... (2) contributing, directly or indirectly, money or other valuable consideration in amounts exceeding $500 in the aggregate during any calendar year to all political campaigns for political office, and other partisan political activity including, but not limited to, the purchase of tickets to political functions... (22 NYCRR 100.5[C]).
Here, the judge’s law clerk is not a candidate for election to public office (see Opinion 07-189) and has already donated the maximum amount a judge’s personal appointee is permitted to contribute to campaigns for political office and other partisan political activity during a calendar year. Therefore, the law clerk may not purchase additional tickets during the same year to political events. Nevertheless, the judge may permit his/her law clerk to continue to attend political events during the year if the law clerk is able to do so without directly or indirectly contributing any money or other valuable consideration therefor (see 22 NYCRR 100.5[C]) and as long as doing so does not create an appearance of impropriety (cf. 22 NYCRR 50.1[I][C] [court employees shall not solicit, accept or agree to accept any gifts or gratuities from persons having or likely to have any official transaction with the court system]; 22 NYCRR 100.3[C] [judge shall require staff to observe the standards of fidelity and diligence that apply to the judge]). Accordingly, the law clerk may attend political functions as a guest.
However, once a law clerk has contributed $500 to political campaigns or other partisan political activities during a calendar year, he/she may not purchase tickets for admission to political functions held during the same calendar year even if the amount the law clerk pays for a ticket equals the actual cost of his/her attendance only and does not include a contribution to a political campaign or other partisan political activity.
The law clerk may wish to contact the Unified Court System’s Office of Court Administration, the agency with the ultimate authority to interpret Part 50 of the Chief Judge's Rules, for further guidance on any issues that may arise under the Rules Governing Conduct of Nonjudicial Court Employees (Contact: ETHICS HELPLINE: 1-888-28-ETHIC).