December 17, 2018
This responds to your inquiry (18-155) asking whether your principal court attorney may participate in certain outside activities now that he or she is no longer employed in the private sector. Of course, the Committee assumes that your court attorney’s outside activities will take place on his/her own time and away from the courthouse.
According to the Rules Governing Judicial Conduct, a judge must prohibit members of his/her staff who are personal appointees from engaging in certain political activity (see 22 NYCRR 100.5[C]-). It is ethically permissible under the Rules for a judge to allow a personal appointee to serve as a member of the county committee of a political party. However, he or she may not serve as an officer or member of an executive committee of the organization (see 22 NYCRR 100.5[C]).
The Committee has previously advised that subject to specific limitations, a judge’s personal appointee may serve as a member of a non-profit community board. However, such service should not interfere with the appointee’s full-time employment with the Unified Court System, and there should be no mention of the court employee’s affiliation with the court system. In the event any matter involving this community board comes before the judge, the court attorney must be completely insulated from any involvement in the matter.
A personally appointed court attorney may not directly or indirectly contribute “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 purchasing of tickets to political functions” (22 NYCRR 100.5[C]). The calendar year ordinarily runs from January 1 through December 31. Where, as here, the court attorney first became a Unified Court System employee partway through 2018, the $500 limit for the 2018 calendar year applies from his/her start date through December 31.
Finally, it is ethically permissible for a judge to permit his/her court attorney to engage in charitable fund-raising in memory of a deceased relative. Again, this activity must be on his/her own time and entirely separate from the court. For example, the employee must use his/her personal contact information and/or personal social media accounts (rather than his/her court email address or the like).
Accordingly, you may permit your principal court attorney to engage in those outside activities subject to the above-referenced caveats under the Rules Governing Judicial Conduct. Of course, your court attorney must also comply with Part 50 of the Rules of the Chief Judge governing the activities of non-judicial employees. We note that your court attorney may contact the Office of Court Administration’s nonjudicial ethics helpline (888-283-8442) for guidance on how Part 50 applies to his/her particular circumstances.
Enclosed, for your convenience, are Opinions 17-68; 12-71 and 00-52 which address this issue.
Very truly yours,
George D. Marlow, Assoc. Justice (Ret.) Appellate Div., First Dep’t
Hon. Margaret T. Walsh
Family Court Judge
Acting Justice, Supreme Court