Judicial Ethics Opinions

Judicial Ethics Opinion 16-160

A part-time judge whose first-degree relative is the police chief for the municipality where the judge presides is disqualified in any matter involving the municipal police department or its officers, subject to remittal where appropriate.

Judicial Ethics Opinion 16-159

A judge who is dissatisfied with an attorney's explanation of the propriety of his/her conduct in connection with a proposed default divorce decree must determine, based on the facts and circumstances known to the judge, whether there is a substantial likelihood that the attorney's actions constitute a substantial violation of the Rules of Professional Conduct and, if so, must take appropriate action. If the judge determines in good faith that he/she is legally permitted and/or legally required to sign the decrees, he/she may do so without violating the Rules Governing Judicial Conduct, assuming he/she can be fair and impartial and is not otherwise disqualified from presiding in matters involving the attorney.

Judicial Ethics Opinion 16-153

A trial judge whose minor child is participating in a charitable fund-raiser may personally solicit funds from family members and fellow judges not subject to his/her supervision, provided he/she does not use or invoke his/her judicial title or status in doing so. A judge may not personally solicit funds from friends or neighbors. A judge may, in his/her capacity as a parent, accompany his/her minor child as the child solicits funds from friends or neighbors, but may not otherwise assist or participate in the solicitation.

Judicial Ethics Opinion 16-133

A judge may preside in matters involving an attorney who hosted a single fund-raiser for the judge's law clerk's election campaign, but must insulate the law clerk and disclose the insulation during the campaign. This obligation ends on Election Day.

Judicial Ethics Opinion 16-129

A judge need not disqualify him/herself in a criminal case merely because the defendant, defense witness(es) and/or other individuals connected with the defense have filed complaints against the judge, provided the Commission on Judicial Conduct has not issued a formal written complaint and the judge can remain fair and impartial.

Judicial Ethics Opinion 16-127

A judge serving on an official court-sponsored legislative advisory committee may participate in committee discussions relating to the judge's recent decision in an ongoing proceeding.

Judicial Ethics Opinion 16-134

A full-time court attorney-referee may not work part-time as a real estate agent.

Judicial Ethics Opinion 16-122

Provided he/she can be fair and impartial, a judge may preside in cases involving an attorney who represented his/her third-degree relative on other matters. Disclosure is not required.

Judicial Ethics Opinion 16-130

Where a judge's spouse, as director of government relations, helps select a law firm to handle lobbying and works directly with the law firm's lobbyists, the judge is disqualified, subject to remittal, from matters involving that law firm. The obligation lasts for the duration of the attorney-client relationship between the spouse's employer and the law firm, but terminates when the relationship ends.

Judicial Ethics Opinion 16-124

A judge may mentor a high school student through a not-for-profit mentorship program, subject to generally applicable limitations on judicial speech and conduct.

Judicial Ethics Opinion 16-136

A judge, about to retire fully from the Unified Court System, may agree to be the guest of honor at a not-for-profit entity's fund-raising dinner that will take place after his/her retirement, provided the judge's participation is not announced or publicized until after his/her retirement is effective.

Judicial Ethics Opinion 16-115

A judge may permit his/her law clerk to teach a class on the Penal Law to law enforcement personnel, provided he/she does so in a manner that promotes public confidence in the judiciary's impartiality and integrity and does not suggest a predisposition on any particular matter. The law clerk should also be willing to teach a similar course to a defense-side audience, if requested.

Judicial Ethics Opinion 16-114

Provided he/she can be fair and impartial, a full-time judge may preside in matters involving a government agency where the judge's former public sector colleague and current social acquaintance has a high-ranking position and a public law department headed by a part-time judge. No disclosures are required in these circumstances.

Judicial Ethics Opinion 16-97

After one bona fide effort to return unexpended funds pro rata to all contributors, a judicial candidate need not make any further efforts to return the funds, even if some envelopes were returned to the campaign committee as undeliverable. Instead, the remaining campaign funds may be used for any purpose consistent with prior opinions and applicable law.

Judicial Ethics Opinion 16-138

A judge who wishes to hire a new personal appointee law clerk may circulate the job notice through a bar association, specialized bar association committees, and attorneys who serve on those committees. The judge may also ask these attorneys to circulate the job notice within their law firms. There is no need for disqualification or disclosure merely because an attorney appearing before the judge, or his/her spouse, agrees to circulate a job notice for the judge.

Judicial Ethics Opinion 16-88

A quasi-judicial official who is suing the county is disqualified, subject to remittal, when attorneys who are personally involved in defending the county appear before him/her in their private or official capacities. For two years after the lawsuit concludes, disclosure is mandatory when these attorneys appear. Neither disclosure nor recusal is required when other assistant county attorneys, or other attorneys from county-level government law offices appear, provided they are not personally involved in his/her lawsuit.

Judicial Ethics Opinion 16-75

Two judicial candidates, hosting a joint fund-raiser, may permit their campaign committees to accommodate an attendee who supports only one candidate and therefore refuses to pay 50 percent of the ticket price to each campaign committee, by allowing him/her to pay the full price to one campaign committee. If they choose to so proceed, the candidates must instruct their campaign committees to shield the candidates from the accommodation's details, including the donor's identity.

Judicial Ethics Opinion 16-74

A judge whose first-degree relative works for a local hospital may preside over cases in which a party calls witnesses, subpoenas records, or presents exhibits from the hospital which employs the judge's first-degree relative, provided the relative has had no personal involvement in the matter. Similarly, neither disclosure nor disqualification is required merely because a case involves foster children who have been, or will be, treated in another unit of the hospital that employs the judge's relative.

Judicial Ethics Opinion 16-76

A judge may serve on the advisory board to an academic/clinical unit within a private law school, even though he/she refers litigants to the unit's treatment programs, provided the judge's activities on the board are strictly limited to reviewing and evaluating the unit's educational curriculum.

Judicial Ethics Opinion 16-79

A judicial candidate may not personally distribute campaign materials that, on their face, invite the public to "donate" to his/her campaign, but may permit his/her campaign committee to do so.

Judicial Ethics Opinion 16-99

A judge is not required to disclose or recuse in matters involving the chief clerk's former private law firm employer. However, the clerk must be insulated from any matters in which he/she was personally involved, including matters where he/she prepared, witnessed or notarized a will now offered for probate. The judge may likewise preside over matters in which the chief clerk's attorney spouse appears, subject to insulation of the clerk.

Judicial Ethics Opinion 16-64

A judge ordinarily may preside in matters involving an attorney who is the chair of a political committee on which the judge's court attorney serves. The judge need not insulate the court attorney or disclose the relationship when the town committee chair appears as an attorney, where committee membership is the only connection between the two attorneys, the proceeding does not involve the committee or related political issues, and the judge is satisfied that the court attorney can be objective.

Judicial Ethics Opinion 16-47

A non-judge who is a judicial candidate in his/her window period may not serve on a local bar association's screening panel evaluating applicants for appointment to state or federal judicial office.

Judicial Ethics Opinion 16-22

A judge may read passages from scripture at a religious service, but may not participate in a prison ministry program where inmates sentenced by the judge may be present in the program's group sessions.

Judicial Ethics Opinion 16-27

A judicial hearing officer may not write a letter supporting an inmate's efforts to gain parole and/or clemency.

Judicial Ethics Opinion 16-95/16-107

A judge may write a letter on behalf of a not-for-profit organization's grant application to assist crime victims, provided the letter describes only the judge's personal knowledge and experience with the organization and is limited to objective facts.

Judicial Ethics Opinion 16-87

A town justice may not serve as the workplace ombudsman for aggrieved town employees, as the positions are ethically incompatible.

Judicial Ethics Opinion 16-94

Several answers on the possible constitutional convention, including whether a judge may serve as delegate, take a public position on whether a constitutional convention should be convened, or lecture on historical constitutional conventions and procedures.

Judicial Ethics Opinion 16-65

A judge may appoint a qualified attorney who is also a co-judge's first-degree relative to handle cases before other judges of the court as a special prosecutor, where the appointment is not governed by Part 36.

Judicial Ethics Opinion 16-46

A judge who concludes that grave inconsistencies at the core of another judge's sworn testimony concerning his/her performance of judicial duties constitute perjury or intentional deception must report the witness-judge to the Commission on Judicial Conduct. Conversely, if he/she concludes the witness-judge did not deliberately testify falsely or intentionally attempt to mislead the court, then he/she has full discretion to take some other, less severe action appropriate to the circumstances.

Judicial Ethics Opinion 16-17

A judge who maintains a leadership role in a religious organization may not promote fund-raising activities or otherwise personally participate in soliciting funds or goods for charity, but may promote a non-fund-raising weekend retreat. A judge may not be a featured speaker at a religious institution's anniversary banquet or permit use of his/her name in the event's promotional materials when fund-raising will occur before and during the banquet.

Judicial Ethics Opinion 16-19

An appellate judge, whose former law clerk is now a support magistrate, may serve on an appellate panel reviewing a Family Court judge's decision to grant or deny objections to the support magistrate's factual and legal determinations. The appellate judge need not disclose the former law clerk relationship.

Judicial Ethics Opinion 16-23

A judge is not required to appoint an expert whose competence he/she questions. If the judge believes he/she cannot be fair and impartial in weighing the expert's testimony, he/she may not preside in cases involving the expert. Conversely, if the judge concludes he/she can be fair and impartial, the judge may preside, despite the expert's apparent efforts to pressure the judge into appointing him/her.

Judicial Ethics Opinion 15-211

A judge who formerly served as an assistant district attorney is disqualified from presiding over any matters in which he/she was involved in any way, but may preside over other cases involving that office where he/she had absolutely no involvement. The judge must insulate his/her law clerk from any matters in which the law clerk participated as a prosecuting attorney or supervisor and disclose the law clerk's prior position and current insulation accordingly.

Judicial Ethics Opinion 15-204

In general, a judge may preside in a case even though the judge's secretary once provided freelance transcription services at an earlier stage while it was pending in another court. However, the judge is disqualified, subject to remittal, if an attorney who is paying for the transcription services appears before him/her. That obligation continues until the work is completed and all fees are paid. Neither disclosure nor disqualification is required when the secretary's services are paid for by the Unified Court System.

Judicial Ethics Opinion 16-29/16-50

A discussion on proper use of unexpended campaign funds at the end of the window period.

Judicial Ethics Opinion 16-55

Absent a legal requirement, a town justice must not sign a statement (a) acknowledging an obligation to comply with a town ethics code, or otherwise agreeing to be bound by such code where it is more stringent than the rules governing judicial conduct, or (b) acknowledging that willful violation of the town ethics code may be a basis for suspension, dismissal, or removal, or otherwise agreeing to allow the town board remove, suspend, or dismiss the judge.

Judicial Ethics Opinion 15-202

A full-time judge may not participate in a continuing legal education program that (1) is advertised in a way clearly and improperly implying attorneys attending will be placed in a special position to influence the judge and (2) offers an honorarium designed to maximize the number of paying attendees.

Judicial Ethics Opinion 15-201

A full-time judge who presides in a drug treatment court may serve on the advisory board of a not-for-profit community action organization which educates and assists addicts and their families, provided the judge does not give legal advice to or fund-raise for the organization and does not have the opportunity to make referrals to the organization. While serving on the advisory board, the judge is disqualified, subject to remittal, in matters where the organization appears. If such service results in excessive disqualifications, the judge must resign from the advisory board.