Judicial Ethics Opinions

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 15-204

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 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 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.

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 16-16

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 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 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 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 15-203

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 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 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 15-128

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.