Judicial Ethics Opinions

Judicial Ethics Opinion 16-77

A judge, whose administrative judge has commenced a lawsuit against certain entities and attorneys for alleged misconduct in the judge's court, is not disqualified from cases involving those entities and attorneys, provided the judge can be fair and impartial. The judge need not make any disclosure of the administrative judge's lawsuit but may do so in his/her sole discretion.

Judicial Ethics Opinion 15-232

The committee cannot comment on legal questions, such as whether a judge may, on his/her own initiative and before the parties' first appearance, request and review grand jury minutes and/or discovery materials produced to the defense. Should the judge determine such conduct is legally permitted, however, the judge must be careful to avoid any impermissible ex parte communications.

Judicial Ethics Opinion 15-190

A judge may not serve on the board of a not-for-profit agency that offers traffic safety education programs to which the judge may make referrals.

Judicial Ethics Opinion 15-206

A judge is not disqualified when an attorney who is the judge's child's election opponent appears before him/her, provided the judge can be fair and impartial.

Judicial Ethics Opinion 16-56

Unless a judge is required by law or rule to perform marriages, a judge may adopt a policy to decline to perform all weddings. A judge who declines to perform weddings may permit court staff to refer couples to another incumbent public official who is authorized to solemnize marriages.

Judicial Ethics Opinion 16-60

On these facts, a judge may not join an informal discussion group with politically connected people to develop detailed proposals for redistricting reform, comprehensive election and voting reforms, restructuring the legislature, changes in school funding, and other highly controversial or political matters largely unrelated to the law, the legal system, and the administration of justice.

Judicial Ethics Opinion 16-66

Under the circumstances presented, when an attorney appearing before the judge had previously represented the judge's grandchild's parent and now has an outstanding judgment for unpaid legal fees, (1) the judge is disqualified, subject to remittal, until the judgment is satisfied or vacated; (2) for two years thereafter, the judge must disclose the attorney's former representation; and (3) thereafter, the judge has no further obligation, provided he/she can be fair and impartial.

Judicial Ethics Opinion 15-165

In these circumstances, a judge may not provide the court's internal weekly case summaries to a newspaper for publication.

Judicial Ethics Opinion 15-133

A judge may attend a foreign consulate's reception for its ambassador and may speak at the consulate about the judge's personal experiences in becoming a jurist, subject to generally applicable limitations on judicial speech and conduct

Judicial Ethics Opinion 16-13

A newly appointed part-time attorney judge may not continue to represent a client on cases which not only originated in the judge's court, but were previously handled by the inquiring judge's predecessor on that court, and were transferred to another local court only after the inquiring judge assumed the bench.

Judicial Ethics Opinion 16-16

A judge who presided over two related civil actions may preside over the losing party's subsequent malpractice action against its former counsel, only if the judge believes he/she can be fair and impartial.

Judicial Ethics Opinion 15-220

The committee cannot comment on any legal questions. However, if applicable law permits judges to delegate authority, to accept guilty pleas and set fines, to court clerks who serve in a municipality's traffic violations bureau, then it would also be ethically permissible for the judges to delegate that authority under the applicable statutory scheme.

Judicial Ethics Opinion 15-203

A full-time judge who presides in a treatment court may serve on a legislator's advisory committee on drug abuse, subject to certain limitations.

Judicial Ethics Opinion 16-06

A full-time judge may generally publicize his/her book and participate in book signing and other promotional events the publisher organizes, but where the work is a children's book unrelated to the law, the judge may not personally participate in promotions that specifically target attorneys or the legal profession.

Judicial Ethics Opinion 15-151

A village justice may continue as a client of a salesperson whose spouse is the village prosecutor. Unless the relationship is substantially more than an ordinary salesperson-customer relationship, the judge may preside over cases where the salesperson's spouse appears as village prosecutor without disclosure or disqualification, provided the judge can remain fair and impartial.

Judicial Ethics Opinion 15-193

A judge may write to the director of a federally funded medical facility expressing appreciation for care provided to the judge's deceased parent, and may use judicial stationery marked "personal and unofficial" for this purpose. The judge may not send copies to federal legislators.

Judicial Ethics Opinion 16-30

Where the new Public Defender preliminarily and briefly represented a judge in a disciplinary proceeding one year ago as a private attorney, the judge may continue to preside over matters involving assistant public defenders, provided the judge can be fair and impartial. The judge need not disclose the prior, non-substantive representation when the assistant public defenders appear.

Judicial Ethics Opinion 15-188

The committee cannot suspend the Rules Governing Judicial Conduct or issue legal opinions interpreting the state and federal constitutions. On request for reconsideration, the committee reaffirms its prior opinions advising that a judge may not take part in certain public activities regarding redistricting.

Judicial Ethics Opinion 15-197(B)

A town or village justice may not assist the district attorney by contacting each prosecution witness, complainant and police officer concerning their upcoming court appearances.

Judicial Ethics Opinion 15-104

A judge may permit a nonprofit educational organization to use his/her name and honorific when listing the judge as a volunteer in documents that are circulated within the organization, where other volunteers are also listed with their titles, and the documents will not be used for fundraising.

Judicial Ethics Joint Opinion 15-138/15-144/15-166

Three judges request guidance on their disciplinary duties, if any, based solely on second- or third-hand reports of allegedly improper conduct by an attorney or another judge.

Judicial Ethics Opinion 15-128

A full-time judge whose former law partner is temporarily unavailable for medical reasons may accept and deposit fees, issue checks to clients and the firm and pay expenses as necessary to wind up the law firm's affairs, until the partner recovers or new counsel is hired but may not use law firm letterhead after assuming judicial office.

Judicial Ethics Opinion 16-11

A judge who is a defendant in a bank's foreclosure action in an individual and fiduciary capacity may nonetheless preside over an unrelated action in which a party has subpoenaed records from the bank, including a party's motions to quash the subpoena, provided the bank is not a party to the action before the judge but is only a stakeholder which has not appeared or taken a position regarding the subpoena.

Judicial Ethics Opinion 15-132

A judge may hire his/her current law clerk's spouse as the judge's secretary, provided the spouse is qualified for such appointment.

Judicial Ethics Opinion 15-119

Where a county court judge is aware a town justice presided over an arraignment and then requested the matter be transferred due to a purported conflict, but lacks relevant details of the purported conflict, the judge need not take any further action.

Judicial Ethics Opinion 15-122

A judge may not accept a gift of a food platter from a former judge, now practicing in the judge's court, or from a bar group on the former judge's behalf.

Judicial Ethics Opinion 15-100

A judicial association may respond to public criticism of a judge for making statements about a juror in a written decision, provided that the response does not involve comment on a pending or impending proceeding, and subject to certain additional limitations.

Judicial Ethics Opinion 15-120

A judge may not join in an advertising campaign intended to lobby political support and funding for union contract renewals for his/her alma mater.

Judicial Ethics Opinion 15-115

A town judge may permit a court clerk, who was previously employed as the local police chief's confidential secretary, to meet with the police department and town administration and explain notes the court clerk made during his/her prior employment.

Judicial Ethics Opinion 15-134

A full-time principal law clerk who is a part-time SCAR hearing officer (1) may not run for or serve as a delegate to a political party's judicial nominating convention; (2) may apply for and become a notary public; and (3) may not circulate nominating petitions except during his/her window period as a candidate for election to judicial office, and then only if his/her own name is on the petition.

Judicial Ethics Joint Opinion 15-138/15-144/15-166

Where a judge has no direct personal knowledge whatsoever about purported misconduct of another judge or attorney, he/she has particularly wide discretion to make a threshold decision, based on information the judge has already received, of whether there is a "substantial likelihood" of a substantial violation under all the circumstances currently known to him/her.

Judicial Ethics Opinion 16-11

A judge who is a defendant in a bank's foreclosure action in an individual and fiduciary capacity may nonetheless preside over an unrelated action in which a party has subpoenaed records from the bank, including a party's motions to quash the subpoena, provided the bank is not a party to the action before the judge but is only a stakeholder which has not appeared or taken a position regarding the subpoena.

Judicial Ethics Opinion 15-89

Where a nonprofit organization's regular letterhead does not include the names of the organization's directors, a judge who learns that all the directors were listed on an invitation to the organization's upcoming fundraiser must advise the organization in writing not to list the judge's name on invitations to fundraising events. Absent any additional circumstances rendering the judge's appearance at the event improper, the judge may thereafter attend the event.

Judicial Ethics Opinion 15-61

A judge may not engage in a panel program about a recent decision if the time to appeal has not expired, as the occasion would call for impermissible public comment by the judge; and an attorney who argued the case before the judge is a fellow panelist.