December 14, 1995
Digest: A Special Referee in the Supreme Court performs quasi-judicial duties and therefore may not serve on a committee to re-elect a Supreme Court justice.
Rules: 22 NYCRR 100.7; 101.3(b)
A Special Referee in the Supreme Court has been invited to serve on a committee to re-elect a Supreme Court justice. As acknowledged by the inquirer, this would constitute participation in partisan politics, and thus the inquirer asks whether it is proper to serve on such a committee.
Section 101.3(b) of the Rules of the Chief Administrator authorizes this Committee to “respond to questions concerning judicial ethics posed by persons who exercise quasi-judicial duties in the Unified Court System but who are not judges or justices of the Unified Court System”. On that basis the Committee has previously issued Advisory Opinions concerning Judicial Hearing Officers, Family Court Hearing Examiners and Housing Court judges. (See e.g., Vol. III, Opinion 89-63; Vol. III, Opinion 89-90; Vol. II, 88-70). The Committee has not previously issued any Advisory Opinion relating to Special Referees.
The inquirer is a full-time employee of the Unified Court System whose actual job title is “Court Attorney-Referee”. This, in fact, is the usual situation with persons who are called Special Referees. The Title Standard promulgated for that position by the Office of Court Administration makes it clear that such persons may be exercising a quasi-judicial function in that they are authorized to conduct hearings, take testimony and issue findings of facts and confidential opinions. Accordingly, the Committee is of the opinion that Special Referees are persons who exercise quasi-judicial duties in the Unified Court System. It therefore follows that the inquirer is bound by the proscription against partisan political authority set forth in section 100.7 of the Rules Governing Judicial Conduct, and thus may not serve on the Committee to re-elect a candidate for public office.