Judicial Ethics Opinions

Judicial Ethics Opinion 16-164

A new full-time judge may continue to serve as a receiver in foreclosure pursuant to an appointment received before assuming the bench, provided his/her duties are ministerial in nature and completed within one year, if possible.

Judicial Ethics Opinion 17-60

An announcement by the outgoing political party chair that next year's party meeting will be held "in May 2018" is not sufficiently definite and reliable for judicial candidates to calculate the start of their window period. They may therefore assume that this year's official date will be used again in 2018 and count back nine months from that presumed date.

Judicial Ethics Opinion 17-04

A judge may not attend a three-day human trafficking seminar sponsored by federal prosecutorial and law enforcement agencies, where the program will focus primarily on strategies for effective prosecution.

Judicial Ethics Opinion 16-175

While a judge need not separately scrutinize all pleadings to determine whether his/her client is the issuing officer, the judge must not take a guilty plea, either by mail or in person, if the client's role as issuing officer is readily available, such as in those instances where the officer's name appears on the ticket.

Judicial Ethics Opinion 17-38

An opinion on judges' participation in political speech, including participating in marches, demonstrations or rallies; or publicly expressing an opinion on a pending federal executive branch appointment.

Judicial Ethics Opinion 16-157

A full-time judge (1) may informally refer at-risk youth to religious or secular educational programs, assuming he/she does not frequently preside in matters involving at-risk youth and such programs do not appear before the judge or accept court referrals; (2) may serve as a paramedic with a local volunteer ambulance corps; (3) may not serve on the board of a regional emergency medical services council; and (4) may participate in a documentary film concerning his/her volunteer activities if it is produced by a not-for-profit entity, but may not participate in a commercially produced documentary.

Judicial Ethics Opinion 16-154

A judge may, but is not required to, disclose his/her habitability concerns to a local code enforcement officer. If the judge does so, he/she may not preside over the resulting proceeding, and therefore may not issue a warrant for the code enforcement officer to enter the premises.

Judicial Ethics Opinion 16-156

A judge should not send a thank you note in response to a laudatory ex parte letter from an attorney who recently appeared before the judge.

Judicial Ethics Opinion 16-143

Where a part-time lawyer judge's law practice associate is representing a client in another court in the same county before another part-time lawyer judge, the judge may not personally participate in the representation by meeting with the client or discussing the case with opposing counsel, even if such activities will take place away from the courthouse. The judge may nonetheless directly supervise a subordinate attorney who is representing the law practice's clients in such matters, provided such supervision takes place in private, without involvement of the client, opposing parties or counsel, or the court in which the matter is heard.

Judicial Ethics Opinion 16-144

A judge whose law clerk becomes the District Attorney is disqualified, subject to remittal where permitted, from presiding in cases involving the DA's office for one year, even if the judge is presiding in Veterans Court. To the extent lawful, practical and appropriate, it is ethically permissible to streamline the remittal process by incorporating the requisite disclosures and consents into the parties' and their counsel's written agreement to transfer the case to Veterans Court.

Judicial Ethics Opinion 16-179

A judge may be a member of an all-female volunteer EMT service which responds to calls from women in a particular faith community who need emergency care, where the service was established to expand opportunities for women in the community and to preserve significant religious or cultural values of legitimate common interest to community members. However, a judge may not serve as director of the entity if that role requires him/her to personally engage in fund-raising and/or recruitment activities.

Judicial Ethics Opinion 16-135

A judge may publicly advocate for a change in the Penal Law by writing to executive and legislative bodies and/or officials, as well as other potentially interested parties, subject to generally applicable limitations on judicial speech and conduct. The judge need not inform local prosecutors or defense counsel of these activities.

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 16-127

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 16-129

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 16-134

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 16-136

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 16-124

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 16-115

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 16-74

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 16-75

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 16-79

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 16-76

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 16-99

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.