The Advisory Committee on Judicial Ethics recently issued the following opinions, which are linked below.
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August 6, 2020 Broadcast
Opinion 20-40 May a new full-time judge preside in certain matters involving his/her former law partner and his/her court attorney’s former law firm or former clients?
Opinion 20-48 May a part-time lawyer judge handle criminal and traffic defense matters as an attorney in the same county, given that the prosecutors in those cases may also appear in his/her court?
Opinion 20-60 A judge may ask the Commission on Judicial Conduct if they received any complaints against the judge's deceased spouse, but must not use or invoke his/her own judicial title or status in making this request.
Opinion 20-63 (1) A judge who recently negotiated a settlement of his/her lawsuits against a city must fully disclose these prior litigations in matters where the city is a party for two years from the date the presiding judge signs the order of settlement. During this period, if any party appears without counsel in matters where the city is a party, the judge must disqualify him/herself. (2) Opinions 18-139, 17-03, 14-11, 08-59, 04-66, 98-161, and 91-52 are modified or overruled to the extent they suggest a judge’s obligation completely ends when the litigation terminates.
Opinion 20-69 When misdemeanor-level Vehicle and Traffic Law charges are before a judge on a simplified traffic information, the judge may not ask the prosecuting agency to file a long form information so the judge can sua sponte issue a criminal summons or an arrest warrant for a defendant who failed to appear.
Opinion 20-80 A court-attorney referee may set up an email auto-response to provide general legal and ethical information to unrepresented litigants and others, provided the message is consistent with the Rules Governing Judicial Conduct. However, the referee should not refer to him/herself as a “jurist” in this auto-response message.
Opinion 20-82/20-86 A judge who is disqualified, subject to remittal, in all cases involving a particular law office may offer the parties and their counsel an opportunity to remit disqualification, but must not actively advocate for remittal. While a judge may expedite the remittal process by using a form that memorializes the basis for disqualification, the form must fully disclose all relevant facts and must permit the parties and their counsel to decide freely without the judge’s participation. Nor may the judge preside in any non-ministerial stage of a case involving that law office, unless the disqualification is properly remitted.
Opinion 20-83 A Supreme Court candidate may write a letter asking voters to vote in a primary election for a judicial delegate who will support his/her nomination but must make clear that his/her endorsement of the delegate is for the purpose of furthering his/her own candidacy for Supreme Court. This information should be contained in the body of the letter; a notation at the very bottom of the page, in a much smaller font than the rest of the letter, is insufficient.
Opinion 20-87 May a judge accompany his/her spouse, who is a candidate for elective public office, to an election night event to await primary results?
Opinion 20-88 Where a court officer’s job responsibilities include performing administrative and clerical duties for the court on days when the court is not in session, the judge may not permit a police officer to serve in this role.
Opinion 20-89 A judge may not mail congratulatory letters to a graduating high school class.
Opinion 20-91 May a judge accept an unadvertised award at a not-for-profit organization’s fund-raising dinner and briefly express his/her thanks?
Opinion 20-92/20-93 On these facts, a judge may not participate in a silent “walk for justice.”
Opinion 20-96 A part-time judge may serve on a county executive’s working group to review training at the county police academy, where the group’s membership is balanced and its goal is to help reduce and eliminate implicit bias. The judge must, however, be mindful of the need to maintain public confidence in his/her impartiality and must take particular care not to comment on any pending or impending case in the United States or its territories.
Opinion 20-112 Where multiple high-profile, racially-charged incidents of police violence have resulted in ongoing or reasonably foreseeable litigation and intense local and national controversy, a judge may not participate in an initiative designed to (a) promote trust and open dialogue between activists and police concerning those incidents and/or (b) recommend changes to current police force deployments, strategies, policies, procedures, and practices.
July 17, 2020 Broadcast
Opinion 20-50 A part-time town judge may serve on the town’s board of assessment review and its strictly advisory historical preservation commission, subject to disqualification in any matters involving these entities or their determinations or recommendations.
Opinion 20-51 May a judge, as a member of a political party and without disclosing his/her judicial status, engage in political activity such as “writing to [state or federal] representatives or senators [to express] personal positions; attending meetings, rallies or events for candidates for office; volunteering for such candidates in any capacity at their office or in contact with the general public; canvassing in other states to support candidates for national office or candidates for office in those other states; [or] any similar efforts to support candidates for any political office”?
Opinion 20-54 A part-time judge may serve as the security manager for a local racetrack, which is outside the jurisdiction of his/her court.
Opinion 20-61 May a judge continue to preside over a criminal matter after the defendant files a federal lawsuit against him/her, the arresting police officer, and others? May the judge preside over other matters in which the police officer appears?
Opinion 20-64 May a part-time lawyer judge (1) practice law before a non-lawyer judge in another town or village of the same county; (2) practice law in County Court or Supreme Court; (3) as a full-time college professor, comment on cases, regulations, or politics; or (4) accept full-time employment as chief clerk of the County Court?
Opinion 20-68 A town justice may preside in matters involving the public defender’s office where his/her spouse works as an eligibility investigator, provided he/she discloses his/her spouse’s employment.
Opinion 20-70 Where a not-for-profit, non-partisan town Grange engages in significant educational initiatives to promote rural interests and an appreciation of agriculture but also engages in advocacy and lobbying with local governments concerning local laws, policies and regulations, a town judge (1) may join the entity as a regular member but (2) must not assume leadership roles in the entity or otherwise publicly associate him/herself with organizational positions on controversial issues.
Opinion 20-72 May a full-time judge appear in a commercially produced documentary concerning a deceased former client and his/her family, where the representation terminated over 30 years ago?
Opinion 20-73 A full-time judge who formerly worked for the Legal Aid Society (1) is permanently disqualified in cases in which he/she participated in any way as an attorney, whether in a personal or supervisory capacity and (2) is disqualified for two years, subject to remittal, in cases involving his/her former clients. The judge may otherwise preside in criminal cases, including those in which his/her former colleagues appear, provided he/she can be fair and impartial.
Opinion 20-75 Where a full-time judge has been sued by a former ward, may the judge provide his/her current attorneys with financial information he/she obtained during the guardianship, to assist them in collecting an award of attorneys’ fees from the former ward?
Opinion 20-76 A part-time judge may accept temporary employment with a bank to assist in evaluating loan applications from small businesses under the federal Paycheck Protection Program.
Opinion 20-77 A full-time judge may serve on a not-for-profit advisory board that will make recommendations about funding local entities in serious economic jeopardy, provided his/her involvement is limited to reviewing and making recommendations on applications from not-for-profit entities that are not likely to appear before him/her.
Opinion 20-79 As long as a JHO remains listed on a court’s assignment panel, he/she may not serve as an arbitrator or mediator for any contested matter in a court in a county where he/she serves on a JHO panel for such court, unless appointed by the court to so serve.
Opinion 20-94 May a village justice permit the court clerk to help the village attorney prepare plea bargain letters to defendant motorists, by inputting each defendant’s name and address and the officer, docket number and charges on each letter, where the letters would be mailed out on the village attorney’s letterhead with no visible sign of the court’s involvement?
Opinion 20-97 A court must not be in the position of advocating a negotiated plea and, thus, must not distribute the District Attorney’s “informational document” to defendant motorists or otherwise implement the DA’s procedure for facilitating defendants’ pleas to lesser charges in Vehicle and Traffic Law matters. The court may, however, distribute a court-prepared form impartially listing all options for a defendant motorist and include a link to the DA’s website as a convenience to defendant motorists.
Opinion 20-99 (1) A town or village justice court must not “collaborate” or “work with” the district attorney’s office or the local town/village prosecutor. (2) The court may nonetheless invite defense bar representatives and the appropriate prosecutorial office to discuss procedures for handling mail-in pleas on traffic infractions. (3) The court must not promote or favor mail-in pleas and/or plea bargaining over a defendant motorist’s other options, even if this is intended to mitigate the effects of the COVID-19 outbreak. The court may, however, distribute a court-prepared form (such as UCS DCJA Form 1.0) impartially listing all options for a defendant motorist and include a link to the District Attorney’s website and/or email address as a convenience to defendants.
July 8, 2020 Broadcast
Opinion 19-130 A judge (1) may appoint a retired judge to the roster of neutrals for the same trial-level court in which he/she previously served, provided the appointment is made impartially and on the basis of merit; (2) may refer matters to the retired judge for mediation, unless he/she determines their relationship would create an appearance of impropriety; (3) may consider and decide the retired judge’s fee applications for mediation services, unless the judge determines their relationship might improperly influence the judge’s conduct or judgment.
Opinion 19-160 A town justice may also work as a part-time, nonsupervisory assistant county attorney in the same county, provided he/she has no prosecutorial or quasi-prosecutorial duties and is fully insulated from all matters involving the district attorney’s office and the sheriff’s office.
Opinion 19-170 On these facts, a judge’s impartiality cannot reasonably be questioned in matters involving an assistant public defender, merely because the judge, in his/her capacity as a college or university administrator, has some supervisory authority over the APD’s spouse on a multi-year grant-funded research project. The judge may thus continue to preside in matters involving the APD, provided the judge concludes he/she can be fair and impartial, and disclosure is not required.
Opinion 20-02 May a full-time judge serve as a compensated referee for certain private not-for-profit high school and grammar school sports leagues?
Opinion 20-07 A judge with an interest in unpaid fees separately shared by the judge’s former partner must disqualify, subject to remittal, in any matter where the former partner appears, for two years after final payment of those fees, but need not disclose or disqualify from matters handled by other attorneys from the same county department of social services where the former partner is now employed.
Opinion 20-14 May a full-time judge serve on the board of a not-for-profit entity in another state, where the entity’s mission is to promote “positive mental health outcomes in our oftentimes overwhelming digital landscape,” through educational school-based initiatives, public awareness campaigns and training for mental health professionals and educators?
Opinion 20-15 On these facts, where a judge discovered a clerical court employee’s apparent misconduct after the affected case had already been adjudicated and the judge has already reported all the facts he/she learned to appropriate court administrators, the judge need not take any further action.
Opinion 20-22 Where a disciplinary proceeding resulting solely from a complaint filed by the District Attorney results in public censure on undisputed facts, the judge must continue to disqualify him/herself from all matters involving the District Attorney’s office for two years. During this period, the judge’s disqualification is subject to remittal in matters where defendants are represented by counsel, provided the judge (a) concludes he/she can be fair and impartial and (b) strictly complies with all requirements for remittal.
Opinion 20-26 (1) A judge is not disqualified from presiding in matters involving the District Attorney’s office merely because the law clerk’s second-degree relative is an assistant district attorney. However, the judge must insulate the law clerk in all cases in which the law clerk’s relative appears. (2) The judge need not ask if the law clerk’s relative had some behind-the-scenes involvement in a particular case, where the relative does not personally appear and is not listed on the papers. (3) On these facts, the judge need not take any disciplinary action. (4) Provided no party is appearing without counsel, the law clerk’s insulation in matters involving his/her relative may be remitted, after full disclosure on the record, if the parties and their counsel affirmatively consent and their agreement is incorporated into the record, and the judge is satisfied the law clerk can be fair and impartial. The judge may take steps to expedite the remittal process, consistent with these principles.
Opinion 20-30 Where two attorneys representing the judge’s child in a civil matter are also the Public Defender and an assistant public defender: (1) During the representation, the judge (a) must disqualify him/herself, subject to remittal, from matters involving those two attorneys when they appear as public defenders either in the judge’s court or the centralized arraignment part but (b) may preside in other matters involving the public defender’s office, provided the assistant public defender(s) appearing before the judge have absolutely no involvement in representing the child. (2) Once the child’s representation completely ends, disclosure is mandated in lieu of outright disqualification for two years in matters involving the attorneys who represented the judge’s child. The judge must fully disclose the past representation, but thereafter has full discretion to determine if recusal is warranted, provided no party is appearing without counsel.
Opinion 20-33 A part-time judge may not serve concurrently as business agent for a correction officers’ union, where the role requires representing the interests of corrections officers in the legislative or political sphere.
Opinion 20-34/20-35 (1) Where a local attorney’s paralegal filed a disciplinary complaint against a judge, but the Commission on Judicial Conduct has not issued a formal written complaint, the judge need not disqualify him/herself from matters involving the complainant or his/her employer, provided he/she can be fair and impartial. (2) If the Commission formally charges the judge with misconduct in a formal written complaint, the judge (a) must disqualify him/herself from matters in which the complainant appears; but (b) need not otherwise disqualify him/herself from matters involving the complainant’s attorney employer, where the judge is satisfied the attorney did not participate in making the complaint and the paralegal’s name does not appear on the papers and is unlikely to be present in the courtroom, provided the judge can be fair and impartial. (3) The judge need not disclose the disciplinary complaint, whether or not recusal is required.
Opinion 20-36 A judge need not disqualify him/herself from issuing a decision in a small claims matter merely because his/her first-degree relative, a non-lawyer, independently applied for employment with the sole law firm that appeared at the small claims hearing.
Opinion 20-38 (1) A judge may discuss pending or impending matters with other judges and court clerks at a magistrate’s association meeting, assuming this is a confidential setting with no others present. (2) Where a judicial association’s email contact list includes individuals who are not judges or court personnel, a judge cannot assume the emailed discussions are confidential or private and therefore must take particular care to observe generally applicable limitations on judicial speech.
Opinion 20-45 A full-time judge may serve on the board of a not-for-profit entity that runs community-based health care facilities, provided it and its affiliated hospital are not likely to be engaged regularly in adversary proceedings in any court.
Opinion 20-47 May a judge serve on the board of a not-for-profit arts foundation that reviews grant applications and awards grants to promote performing arts?
June 12, 2020 Broadcast
Opinion 20-31 A judge may teach a law school course based on a now-concluded homicide trial in his/her jurisdiction only if the time for appeals is exhausted and no related matters are pending or reasonably foreseeable. In teaching the class, the judge may only use materials from the public record.
Opinion 20-32 Where an assistant public defender with no supervisory responsibilities serves on the town board that sets the town justice’s salary and the court’s budget, the town justice (1) is disqualified, subject to remittal, in all matters involving that APD but (2) may otherwise preside in cases involving the Public Defender’s office, assuming he/she can be fair and impartial.
Opinion 20-37 A judge whose second-degree relative is a caseworker for the department of social services is disqualified in all matters where the relative is personally involved, whether as the named petitioner or as a likely witness. The disqualification is not subject to remittal.
Opinion 20-39 May a judge create generic thank you cards for his/her chambers, featuring a stock image of the exterior of the courthouse and bearing a message saying “Thank you” followed by his/her judicial title and name?
Opinion 20-42 Subject to generally applicable limits on judicial speech and conduct, a judge may publicly comment on the recently enacted bail reform legislation to identify perceived strengths and weaknesses and to suggest the legislature seek additional comments or testimony to improve the law. On these facts, given the controversial nature of the topic, the judge should not refer to his/her current or prior affiliation with a court committee or judicial association unless that entity authorizes him/her to do so.
Opinion 20-43 A judge who headed the DSS legal department as the senior social services attorney is disqualified from all cases in which the judge participated, however minimally, either directly or as a supervisor, at any stage. However, the judge may preside over other cases pending at DSS during his/her tenure, if both the judge and the legal department had absolutely no involvement in the matter.
Opinion 20-44 A judge may attend and speak at a free elder abuse awareness conference sponsored by a not-for-profit home health care agency, where the program is primarily educational and preventative in nature.
Opinion 20-46 A judge may not serve on the board of a not-for-profit entity whose sole purpose is to raise funds for a foreign educational institution.
Opinion 20-49 A full-time judge may volunteer as a disc jockey for a not-for-profit college radio station.
Opinion 20-52 May a judge, who is one of several beneficiaries of a deceased relative’s estate, preside in matters involving a lawyer who is representing the judge’s sibling as executor?
Opinion 20-53 What are a judge’s ethical obligations in matters involving the court attorney’s former employer, the Department of Children Youth and Families?
Opinion 20-56 Where a judge’s first-degree attorney relative works for the private law office of an ADA who appears in the judge’s court, the judge (1) need not disclose or disqualify when the ADA appears as an ADA but (2) is otherwise disqualified, subject to remittal, whenever attorneys from the ADA’s private practice appear before him/her.
Opinion 20-57 May a judge perform the role of a judge in a theatrical performance to raise funds for his/her house of worship?
Opinion 20-58 A part-time lawyer judge must not publish his/her judicial decisions on his/her personal social media website, where doing so may appear to (1) invite discussion, comment, or other input from members of the public or (2) indirectly promote his/her law practice.
Opinion 20-59 May a full-time judge publish his/her autobiography, and name specific out-of-state doctors or medical entities the judge credits for helping him/her recover from life-threatening medical conditions? May the judge participate in an audiotaped interview and radio program, organized by the publisher, to promote the book?
Opinion 20-62 May a judge serve as Stewardship Co-Chair for his/her house of worship?
Opinion 20-65 A part-time non-attorney judge may continue employment in a law firm while an attorney colleague is seeking election to public office, provided the judge is not directly or indirectly involved in the attorney’s political campaign and is insulated from matters that either are, or appear to be, of a political nature.
Opinion 20-66 A town justice may permit a court security officer to take defendants’ fingerprints within a secured area of the courthouse.
Opinion 20-67 May a judge preside over matters involving staff attorneys employed by the Department of Social Services who are supervised by an attorney against whom the judge filed an ethical complaint approximately two years ago?
Opinion 20-71 A judge may serve on the board of directors of a regional chapter of the Polish American Congress.
Opinion 20-74 A judge may serve on board of directors for a not-for-profit private school.
Opinion 20-78 A full-time court attorney-referee may commence a legal action for eviction and collection with respect to real properties he/she owns in any court of competent jurisdiction, but must do so through counsel unless he/she is the sole owner of the property.
May 22, 2020 Broadcast
Opinion 19-94(B) A judicial candidate may not permit a political action committee to host a joint fund-raiser for him/her and another candidate.
Opinion 19-166 May a full-time judge participate in a local museum’s documentary film commemorating passage of an Amendment to the U.S. Constitution?
Opinion 20-04 A town justice may not serve as Stop-DWI Coordinator, even in another county.
Opinion 20-06 (1) A judge must insulate his/her court clerk from all cases in which the court clerk participated in any way as an attorney, including as a mediator. The judge may preside if he/she can be fair and impartial. (2) The judge need not otherwise insulate the court clerk from cases involving (a) a party whose divorce the court clerk mediated or (b) a law firm for which the court clerk wrote and published blog posts on various matrimonial law topics in the law firm’s name. The judge may preside in such cases if he/she can be fair and impartial. (3) If the court clerk wrote an article about a specific pending case before the judge, he/she must insulate the court clerk from the case and can preside if he/she can be fair and impartial.
Opinion 20-08 Where a judge is a defendant in a personal injury action, may he/she authorize his/her counsel to advise plaintiff’s counsel of his/her judicial status?
Opinion 20-09 A judge’s concern that the Public Defender will criticize and attack him/her personally and professionally does not necessitate recusal from all matters involving the Public Defender’s office.
Opinion 20-11 May a town justice accept an appointment by the town board to serve on the board of a not-for-profit local development corporation, funded by tax revenue from the local power facility?
Opinion 20-12 When a part-time city court judge appears before a full-time judge as an attorney on behalf of a client, the Rules Governing Judicial Conduct do not prohibit him/her from asking the court to direct a city marshal, rather than the county sheriff, to execute a warrant of eviction.
Opinion 20-13 A part-time judge may organize a non-fund-raising sports race and promote it to members of the local sporting community, even though participants will pay a modest fee to cover event costs. The judge may personally apply for routine permits and approvals and be listed as race director, provided he/she does not reference his/her judicial status in any way in making such application and requests.
Opinion 20-16 On these facts, a judge who learns a non-judge court employee engaged in multiple ex parte conversations with one side in an ongoing contested matter before the judge, and attempted to assist that side by using his/her special access as a court employee to provide insider information and advice, must (1) report the situation to appropriate court administrators, (2) direct the employee to be insulated from further case contact, (3) disclose the incidents the judge has become aware of to the lawyers and parties on the record, and (4) direct the lawyers to admonish their clients not to engage in ex parte communication about the case with court personnel.
Opinion 20-17 A judge may, but is not ethically required to, report a non-attorney who attempted to appear before the judge on behalf of a “client.”
Opinion 20-18 A full-time judge may personally appeal the denial of claims for health insurance coverage for his/her dependent child and may seek reversal of charges imposed by the child’s college related to the claims.
Opinion 20-19 What are a judge’s obligations in matters involving a social services agency that employs his/her first-degree relative in a non-supervisory, entry-level position?
Opinion 20-20 A judge who recently served as the District Attorney, and earlier as an assistant district attorney: (1) is disqualified from presiding in criminal matters pending or prosecuted by the office during his/her tenure as the District Attorney; (2) may preside in criminal matters handled by the DA’s office before he/she became the District Attorney, provided the judge had absolutely no involvement in the matter as an assistant district attorney; and (3) may approve 18-B vouchers submitted by defense counsel and assign counsel for administrative parole revocation hearings relating to matters previously prosecuted by the judge or his/her subordinates.
Opinion 20-21 Must a judge disclose that his/her spouse is a non-supervisory assistant district attorney when other attorneys from that office appear on criminal matters?
Opinion 20-23 A judge who is on a not-for-profit organization’s board of directors may be listed on the organization’s fund-raising invitation along with all other directors, in the same manner in which his/her name is listed on the organization’s website.
Opinion 20-24 A judge is not disqualified from presiding in cases involving the attorney who employs the court attorney’s first-degree relative as a secretary, provided the judge can be fair and impartial and no party is appearing without counsel, but the judge must disclose the relationship and insulate the court attorney from such cases.
Opinion 20-25 A judge’s child’s status as a crime victim, and the judge’s status as witness to the alleged crime, do not raise reasonable questions about the judge’s impartiality in matters involving the attorneys prosecuting and defending the accused. Thus, provided the judge can be fair and impartial, he/she may preside in unrelated matters involving these attorneys, even if defense counsel cross-examines the judge and his/her child.
Opinion 20-27 A full-time judge may serve as an executor under the will of relatives within the sixth degree of relationship, provided that such fiduciary activities do not interfere with performance of his/her judicial duties and do not constitute the practice of law, and need not formally seek permission to do so.
Opinion 20-28 A part-time lawyer judge may not serve as part-time assistant counsel for the Division of Criminal Justice Services.
Opinion 20-29 SCAR hearing officers are subject to the same restrictions as sitting judges with respect to political activities.
May 4, 2020 Broadcast
Opinion 19-149 A court attorney-referee may participate in a census education drive organized by his/her fraternity/sorority provided he/she does so in a strictly neutral, non-partisan and informational manner.
Opinion 19-152 May a full-time judge appear at an upcoming agency meeting in support of a not-for-profit entity’s license application, where the judge is a co-founder, officer and director of the entity, and has specialized professional skills and training relevant to the license application?
Opinion 19-158 May a town justice attend public town board meetings as an observer?
Opinion 19-159 A judicial association may not submit an amicus curiae brief in an Article 78 proceeding against an individual judge.
Opinion 19-161 May a judge preside in matters involving the city prosecutor, given the friendship between their children?
Opinion 19-162 A judge whose spouse is a forest ranger with law enforcement responsibilities: (1) is disqualified from cases involving tickets issued by his/her spouse or based on work done by the judge’s spouse; (2) may attend his/her spouse’s professional awards ceremony.
Opinion 19-163 (1) Absent a legal obligation to do so, a court must not help the prosecution meet its discovery obligations by holding and/or delivering discovery packets prepared by law enforcement agencies. (2) A town justice may not meet with the special prosecutor to discuss criminal justice reforms unless attorneys representing defense interests are also invited to attend.
Opinion 19-164 A full-time judge whose former law firm colleague serves as a part-time non-supervisory conflict defender (1) may not preside in matters involving his/her former colleague for two years but (2) may preside in matters in which other attorneys from the conflict defender’s office appear.
Opinion 19-165 A judge who participated in an appeal must report to the Commission on Judicial Conduct a letter he/she received from the lower-court judge whose decision was overturned, because the letter appears to raise very serious questions about the writer’s impartiality, fairness, and understanding of a proper judicial role and suggests an attempt to improperly influence the subsequent disposition of the case before another judge.
Opinion 19-168 (1) A justice court may not disseminate the prosecutor’s plea offer document to defendants at arraignment. (2) When both sides are present, a judge may negotiate a plea offer with a defendant, subject to significant ethical, constitutional, and statutory limits. (3) When the prosecutor gives the defendant a written plea offer and then declines to appear in court, the judge may accept the stipulated plea offer if he/she concludes it is legally appropriate.
Opinion 19-169 A full-time city court judge, in his/her capacity as an acting county court judge in a neighboring county, must disqualify, subject to remittal, from any matters in which his/her co-judge’s law clerk represented a defendant at arraignment. The judge has no obligation to take any curative action, including disclosure, with respect to matters that come before the judge in the city court, based on his/her co-judge’s law clerk’s employment as special arraignment counsel in another county.
Opinion 20-01 A village justice may sign a letter making representations about the disclosure of justice court records to the village court auditors if the judge makes a good-faith legal determination that he/she is permitted to do so.
Opinion 20-03 On these facts, a full-time judge may not serve on the executive committee of a regional Boy Scouts Council that is likely to be engaged regularly in adversarial proceedings.
Opinion 20-05 A judge need not prohibit his/her court attorney from serving on the Joint Commission on Public Ethics, provided such service does not interfere with the court attorney’s official responsibilities and any required permission has been obtained under Part 50 of the Chief Judge’s Rules.
Opinion 20-55 A full-time judge (1) may not serve on the board of a network of not-for-profit agencies, where some of those agencies engage in advocacy, accept court referrals, or are eligible for appointments in the judge’s court; (2) may serve as a board member on a local council of the Boy Scouts of America, but must resign if the council becomes involved in litigation; and (3) may mentor high school students through a program organized by a not-for-profit chamber of commerce.
April 2, 2020 Broadcast
Opinion 19-136 A full-time judge may serve on the board of a not-for profit performing arts center, even if a government official appoints him/her.
Opinion 19-137 A town justice may not write the town board expressing his/her personal view that a newly enacted local law was poorly drafted and offering proposed amendments to solve the problem.
Opinion 19-138 A judge may not participate in a conference call organized by a federal legislator to help plan an event on Capitol Hill for individuals of a particular ethnic/cultural heritage, where the program topics are legislative and political in nature.
Opinion 19-139 What are a judge’s obligations with respect to unclaimed bail monies from a case his/her predecessor fully adjudicated, where the judge could not personally have handled the underlying matter?
Opinion 19-141 May a full-time judge serve as president of a bar foundation that “focuses on the management and distribution of grants for programs devoted to providing [local] legal services”?
Opinion 19-142 Must a judge recall warrants on a defendant’s failure to pay a fine and/or surcharge due to recent revisions in the Criminal Procedure Law? May the judge enter a civil judgment for the unpaid amount?
Opinion 19-143 A full-time judge may teach law-related classes for compensation at a for-profit college or university, provided such teaching does not conflict with the proper performance of judicial duties.
Opinion 19-144 While a law firm is representing the judge’s not-for-profit membership corporation, the judge must disclose the representation when the law firm appears before him/her on behalf of other clients.
Opinion 19-145 A judge may not facilitate a traffic ticket plea reduction program instituted by the District Attorney’s office that would interfere with the court’s exercise of judicial review and discretion.
Opinion 19-146 (1) A full-time judge may not serve as an advisor to the U.S. President on disability programs and services nor on an advisory committee to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2) The judge may meet with federal executive branch officials on his/her own behalf to discuss his/her experiences as a disabled individual, subject to certain limitations.
Opinion 19-147 A part-time judge may serve on the local tourism board, whose function is to take “all reasonable steps” to promote the city, provided the judge does not solicit funds or use the prestige of the office for that purpose.
Opinion 19-148(A) Where a judge previously served as a non-supervisory assistant county attorney and his/her spouse continues to serve in such capacity:
(1) Judge’s Own Cases. The judge is permanently disqualified, without the possibility of remittal, from all cases in which he/she participated in any way as an attorney.
(2) Spouse’s Cases. The judge is disqualified from all cases involving his/her spouse, and remittal is not permitted unless all specified conditions are strictly met.
(3) Related Cases. If the judge believes the family offense, neglect/abuse, or JD/PINS charges he/she handled as an ACA are materially relevant to the matter currently before him/her, then he/she must fully disclose the connection between the two cases. Because disclosure is mandated in lieu of disqualification, the judge is disqualified if any party is appearing without counsel. Otherwise, assuming the judge can be fair and impartial, he/she retains full discretion as to whether to preside, even if a party objects.
(4) Other, Unrelated Cases. The judge may otherwise immediately preside in other cases involving the county attorney’s office, including those (a) prosecuted by his/her former public sector colleagues and supervisors; (b) involving respondents or other individuals who appeared in family offense, neglect/abuse, or JD/PINS matters the judge handled, provided the judge can be fair and impartial; and (c) involving an individual who is or was a respondent in family court in a matter handled by the judge’s spouse. Neither disclosure nor disqualification is required, and there is no waiting period.
(5) Investigations. The judge may preside in matters involving individuals who were merely “under investigation” for possible future family offense or neglect/abuse matters during the judge’s tenure as ACA, provided (i) neither the judge nor his/her spouse had any involvement whatsoever and (ii) the judge can be fair and impartial.
(6) Pistol Permits. With respect to individuals who were respondents in administrative pistol permit proceedings handled by the judge, the judge is disqualified if he/she has personal knowledge of disputed evidentiary facts in the proceeding before him/her. If the pistol permit itself is a factor in the city court matter, the judge must disqualify.
Opinion 19-148(B) (1) A judge may collect fees for legal work done before assuming full-time judicial office, only if the fee arrangement is otherwise proper. (2) A judge need not prohibit his/her spouse from serving as a committee member of a political party. (3) A judge may, as an extra-judicial activity, teach youth court volunteers on both sides about restorative justice issues and court procedures. (4) In matters involving the judge’s election opponent or the opponent’s law firm, clients, relatives, and supporters, disqualification is not required unless the judge, in his/her sole discretion after carefully considering all relevant factors, concludes his/her impartiality might reasonably be questioned or doubts his/her ability to be fair and impartial. (5) Where a lawyer not only supported the judge’s election opponent but also threatened and complained about the judge, disqualification is not required unless the judge, in his/her sole discretion, after carefully considering all relevant factors, concludes his/her impartiality might be reasonably questioned or doubts his/her ability to be fair and impartial.
Opinion 19-150 (1) Where a city court judge’s spouse supervises the public defender’s family court division and only assumes the public defender’s administrative responsibilities on an occasional, short-term basis, the judge: (a) may preside in criminal cases where the public defender’s office represents the defendant, provided there is no related family court proceeding, the judge concludes he/she can be fair and impartial, and the judge’s spouse is not involved in the case; and (b) is disqualified where the public defender’s office is handling both the city court criminal case and a related family court proceeding, but may permit remittal of disqualification if his/her spouse will not personally appear in the courtroom. (2) If the public defender becomes unavailable on a long-term, indefinite basis, such that the public will reasonably perceive the judge’s spouse as the acting or de facto public defender, the judge is disqualified from all public defender matters. The disqualification is again subject to remittal only if the judge’s spouse will not personally appear in the courtroom.
Opinion 19-151 A part-time judge may serve (1) in an appointive position on the county’s emergency medical services advisory board, (2) as assistant chief of the local not-for-profit volunteer fire department elected solely by the organization’s members, where the position does not involve peace officer status or any investigative responsibilities, (3) as a volunteer enterprise risk management chair of the local Boy Scout district, where the position involves ordinary health and safety risks in normal scouting activities, and (4) as a scoutmaster for a local Boy Scout troop.
Opinion 19-153 (1) If a town justice believes the town board’s hiring procedure in hiring a court clerk was unlawful and/or creates an appearance of impropriety, he/she must withhold his/her consent to hiring the selected court clerk. (2) A town justice need not object to employing a court clerk who: (a) is the town supervisor’s second-degree relative, but must insulate him/her from all cases in which the town supervisor is personally involved or in which the town is a named party; (b) will continue to work for a criminal defense attorney for one month while being trained by the outgoing court clerk, but must insulate him/her from matters involving that attorney during this period; and/or (c) during the interview, expressed interest in assisting the town clerk if hired as town court clerk.
Opinion 19-154 A judge who has a remittable conflict with the entire public defender’s office and whose first-degree relative and law partner are also assistant public defenders in that office: (1) may arraign indigent defendants from other local courts in the centralized arraignment part, provided they are represented by the conflict defender or assigned counsel at arraignment and the public defender’s office has not previously represented them in the matter; (2) is disqualified in cases transferred from the centralized arraignment part where the public defender’s office represented the defendant, but the disqualification is subject to remittal after full disclosure on the record unless the judge’s first-degree relative or law partner handled the arraignment; and (3) is disqualified from arraigning a defendant on a bench warrant issued by another local judge if the public defender’s office represents the defendant in the underlying matter, but the disqualification is subject to remittal after full disclosure on the record unless the judge’s first-degree relative or law partner is involved in the underlying matter.
Opinion 19-155 (1) A judge may, but is not required to, disclose his/her concerns to any appropriate authority, including the village police chief, about whether a newly appointed provisional village police officer has proper legal authority and credentials to carry a firearm. (2) A judge who concludes he/she is legally authorized or required as a firearms licensing officer to initiate an investigation into the propriety of the new officer’s possession of a pistol may take whatever steps he/she deems legally permitted or required in that capacity. (3) A judge who concludes he/she has a reasonable, good-faith basis to question the firearm authorization status of a police officer who has been designated to provide security in the judge’s courtroom may, but is not required to, meet with the village police chief concerning the issue. If the judge concludes the officer is not properly authorized, trained, and/or licensed to carry a firearm, he/she may take any lawful measures to ensure order and decorum in his/her courtroom, including, but not limited to, objecting to the officer’s placement in his/her courtroom and consulting with court administrators on how to proceed.
Opinion 19-156 May a justice who previously participated in village policy decisions as a village trustee (presumably including amendments to the village code), preside in cases involving village code violations?
Opinion 19-157 (1) May a judge preside in county court over matters involving the county sheriff’s office, where his/her spouse serves as a non-supervisory road deputy? (2) What are a judge’s ethical obligations in newly filed DSS matters, when the judge formerly served as a senior supervisory attorney with the department of social services with oversight of all DSS cases?
March 24, 2020 Broadcast
Opinion 19-113 A judge whose first-degree relative is running for office may permit him/her to mention the judge's prior service in non-judicial office in the relative's campaign advertisements, provided there is no reference to the judge's eventual judicial title or status.
Opinion 19-114 A part-time town justice may represent the town and a village contained within the town in federal court. However, he/she is then disqualified in matters where either client is a party. While the disqualification is subject to remittal, if the representation results in excessive disqualifications, the judge must choose between the two positions.
Opinion 19-115 A judge may participate in an academic study on judicial diversity in state courts but must abide by generally applicable limitations on speech and conduct, including the public comment rule, and must neither disclose any non-public information acquired in a judicial capacity nor express a predisposition to decide matters in a certain way.
Opinion 19-116 Where a judge has relevant personal knowledge of a job applicant, a familial relationship between them is no bar to providing an employment reference. Thus, a judge may write an employment reference letter for a relative just as he/she would for other applicants unrelated to the judge.
Opinion 19-117 If authorized by law, a town or village justice may notify criminal defendants of court appearances without simultaneously notifying defense counsel.
Opinion 19-118 May a judge send an employment reference letter on behalf of a longtime friend to a prospective employer that does not appear before him/her?
Opinion 19-119 Where a political action committee's endorsement is conditioned on the candidate's pledge, promise or commitment (a) not to seek or accept a specified political party's nomination and (b) to disregard the law by "unequivocally support[ing]" access to certain regulated medical procedures or devices "unimpeded by laws, restrictions, or regulations," a judicial candidate must decline the entity's endorsement. On these facts, the candidate also must not attend the entity's fund-raiser featuring its endorsed candidates.
Opinion 19-120 (1) A full-time judge and a judicial association may publicly support or oppose proposed legislative or constitutional changes affecting court structure, court operations or the terms or conditions of judicial service, and may do so by (a) writing and submitting letters, articles, or editorials to newspapers and other publications; (b) advocating in person or in writing to public officials, governmental bodies, and labor unions; (c) testifying at public hearings; and (d) speaking at public or private forums, other than partisan political gatherings or meetings of a political party or committee. (2) A judge and judicial association should use discretion when expressing a position on social media.
Opinion 19-121 A court attorney-referee may not volunteer with a local bar association group by providing pro bono legal services in another jurisdiction.
Opinion 19-122 A full-time judge may not serve as a board member or non-legal advisor of a not-for-profit organization that receives court appointments and provides guardianship services and attorney representation.
Opinion 19-123 Where a judge believes a county official, who is neither an attorney nor a judge, is incapable of meeting the requirements of his/her position, must he/she report the official to his/her employer?
Opinion 19-124 (1) On these facts, a town justice must prohibit a town board member from spending the entire day in the court clerks' office to monitor their work. (2) A town justice must attend the town's sexual harassment prevention training program if legally required to do so.
Opinion 19-125 A part-time attorney judge may continue to represent a client as guardian pursuant to a Part 36 assignment made before the judge assumed the bench. Where the appointment is a continuing one, the representation need not be completed within one year.
Opinion 19-126 May a full-time judge, as one of two directors of a not-for-profit entity, speak at a public hearing before a regional EMS council concerning the entity's application for a license to own and operate an emergency vehicle?
Opinion 19-127 (1) A part-time judge may attend out-of-state judicial education courses at the National Judicial College. (2) The judge may apply for and accept an educational grant or scholarship from: (a) the National Judicial College or (b) a County Traffic Safety Board, provided there is no financial or referral connection between the judge and the Board, and there is little likelihood that the Board's investigations and recommendations will become the subject matter of cases before the judge. (3) The judge may not request or accept funds for judicial education from a local Victim Impact Panel, where that organization's sole funding source is fees paid by defendants for attendance at court-ordered sessions.
Opinion 19-128 A village justice may consent to hiring a part-time court clerk whose spouse is a village trustee.
Opinion 19-129 A judge, who is not in his/her window period for election or re-election to judicial office, may not participate in an event sponsored by a local political party in which children would meet with local judges to learn about the court system.
Opinion 19-131 May a full-time judge serve on the board of a not-for-profit entity "which provides art services to the disabled by providing occupational therapy activities such as classes and workshops" in various arts?
Opinion 19-132 May a full-time judge permit his/her personally appointed law clerk to 1) display a political candidate's yard sign on his/her solely or jointly owned property, 2) wear clothing featuring political messages away from the courthouse during non-working hours, 3) distribute political literature door-to-door or at a booth at a community function, away from the court house during non-working hours, and 4) "like" or "follow" pages of political campaigns and political organizations on social media?
Opinion 19-133 (1) A part-time attorney judge who is opposing a motion to remove him/her as an attorney in a pending case may respond to media questions concerning the motion in his/her capacity as an attorney, provided he/she makes no reference to his/her status as a judge. (2) If the judge believes governing law prohibits him/her from providing certain details concerning the litigation, he/she may say so publicly. (3) A judge who is running for election to judicial office may respond to personal attacks or attacks on his/her record in his/her capacity as a judicial candidate, provided the response is truthful and not misleading. Thus the judge may, for example, (a) share copies of ethics opinions he/she believes authorize the criticized conduct, (b) disclose the length of his/her employment as an attorney and a part-time judge, (c) disclose facts and circumstances concerning his/her seeking a judicial ethics opinion, and/or (d) explain how his/her conduct has been influenced and guided by such opinions.
Opinion 19-134 May a part-time judge accept an appointment to serve on the county's solid waste board?
Opinion 19-135 A town justice must not lobby the town board to adopt a policy prohibiting civil immigration arrests in the town court while a lawsuit challenging the legitimacy of such arrests in New York's courthouses remains pending or impending.
Opinion 19-103 May a Judicial Hearing Officer serve as a member of a Town Board of Ethics, which has the power and duty to dispose of sworn complaints, conduct investigations and hearings, recommend disciplinary action, and assess penalties?
February 28, 2020 Broadcast
Opinion 19-86 May a full-time judge serve as the chair of a strategic planning committee for a private not-for-profit school his/her children attend?
Opinion 19-87 A judge may not write and publish an online review of a personal vacation or a professional vacation organized by a bar association or other professional organization.
Opinion 19-89 (1) If a town judge’s first-degree relative becomes town police chief, the judge is disqualified from all cases involving the town police department. This disqualification is not subject to remittal, and Opinion 16-160 is accordingly modified in that respect as of January 1, 2020. (2) If the judge’s first-degree relative becomes captain of the town police’s detective division, the judge is disqualified in matters in which the detective division is involved. This disqualification is subject to remittal after full disclosure on the record, provided the judge’s relative will not be physically present in the courtroom and no party is appearing without counsel. (3) The judge may appoint counsel where legally authorized and appropriate but not for the sole purpose of facilitating remittal of the judge’s disqualification. The judge may provide forms to expedite the disclosure/remittal process, provided there is full disclosure of the basis for disqualification, consent by all of the parties and their attorneys, and both disclosure and remittal must be incorporated into the record.
Opinion 19-90 Where a law firm’s former paralegal apparently forged the judge’s signature on a divorce judgment and pretended it had been appropriately filed, and the judge has serious concerns about the firm’s supervision of and reliance on the paralegal, the judge: (1) must report the conduct to the grievance committee if the judge concludes (a) the law firm, through one or more of its employees, deliberately sought to deceive the court, opposing counsel, and the clerk’s office and/or (b) one or more responsible attorneys allowed this situation to occur through extreme carelessness in failing to supervise their subordinates; but (2) need not take any action concerning the former paralegal, who is neither an attorney nor a judge. As always, if the judge believes the conduct was unlawful, the judge may, in his/her sole discretion, report it to an appropriate prosecutor’s office and/or law enforcement.
Opinion 19-91 A full-time judge who presides in a dedicated guardianship part may seek the advice of attorneys regarding a Medicaid application and home care planning for the judge’s first-degree relative, even if those attorneys regularly appear before the judge. Provided the consultation is brief and preliminary in nature and the judge concludes he/she can be completely fair and impartial, the judge need not make any disclosure.
Opinion 19-92 (1) Where a judge’s first-degree relative is a city’s mayor: (a) The judge is disqualified, without the possibility of remittal, if his/her first-degree relative is a party to the proceeding or is likely to appear in the courtroom as a witness; (b) The judge is disqualified, subject to remittal, in matters where the city is a named party; (c) Disqualification is not otherwise required merely because the city or a city department is an interested party, or city employees may be called as witnesses, or the city’s corporation counsel is prosecuting violations pursuant to authority delegated by the District Attorney, provided the judge’s relative has no personal involvement in the case, and absent any additional factors that would create an appearance of impropriety. (2) Where a judge’s third-degree relative heads the county’s social services department, the judge is disqualified, subject to remittal, from cases in which that department is a named party.
Opinion 19-93 A judge who is currently disqualified, subject to remittal, in matters involving a particular attorney has the same obligation in cases where that attorney, although not physically present, may have previously appeared per diem in the case or is likely to appear per diem in that case in the future.
Opinion 19-94(A) A judicial candidate may allow an individual to host a joint fund-raiser for him/her and two other judicial candidates, but the attendees must write separate checks to each candidate’s campaign committee.
Opinion 19-95 May a judge write a letter in support of an inmate’s clemency application at the request of the inmate or his/her attorney, describing the judge’s personal observations of the inmate’s participation and leadership role in a youth outreach program offered at the correctional facility where the inmate is incarcerated?
Opinion 19-96 Must a judge report to the District Attorney that a non-party appeared as counsel in a case before him/her in violation of Judiciary Law §478?
Opinion 19-98 A judge who presides in a drug treatment court may not solicit campaign endorsements from treatment court graduates.
Opinion 19-100 A judge may speak about his/her judicial experiences at a federal legislator’s non-partisan, non-political youth cabinet meeting.
Opinion 19-101 A full-time judge who has written a law book may permit his/her volunteer assistant to reach out to a relative’s contact at a newspaper for the legal community to ask if they would be interested in reviewing or mentioning the judge’s book.
Opinion 19-102 A town justice may not consent to employment of the town supervisor's full-time confidential secretary as a part-time town court clerk.
Opinion 19-103 May a Judicial Hearing Officer serve as a member of a Town Board of Ethics, which has the power and duty to dispose of sworn complaints, conduct investigations and hearings, recommend disciplinary action, and assess penalties?
Opinion 19-104 Where a judge and his/her first-degree relative, as co-fiduciaries of a family trust, retain counsel to negotiate a contract for the trust: (1) During the representation, the judge is disqualified, subject to remittal, in all matters involving that attorney or his/her partners and associates. During this period, if any party is appearing without counsel, remittal is unavailable and the judge cannot preside. (2) For the first two years after the representation completely terminates, the judge is disqualified, subject to remittal, in all matters involving the individual attorney(s) who personally participated in the representation. For other partners and associates who did not personally assist in the representation, disclosure is mandated in lieu of outright disqualification during this period. Again, at this stage, if any party is appearing without counsel, the judge cannot preside. (3) After the two-year post-representation period, the judge’s continuing obligation to make a disclosure in matters involving the individual attorney(s) who personally participated in the representation depends on the particular facts and circumstances presented in each case. For other partners and associates who did not personally assist in the representation, the judge has no obligation to disclose or recuse.
Opinion 19-105 May a full-time judge serve on the board of a not-for-profit organization that “advocates for effective policies and drives evidence-based solutions for the health, education and success of children”?
Opinion 19-106 A judge may not write or join an article or editorial on issues of substantial public controversy involving American foreign policy and military operations.
Opinion 19-107 (1) On these facts, where a judge, in the course of his/her judicial duties, becomes aware of a party’s apparent attempt to undermine the judge’s judicial decision by filing a declaratory judgment action in another court and seeking a default judgment without disclosing related actions, the judge may, but is not required to, inform the other judge of the relevant facts. If the judge chooses to contact the other judge, he/she must do so in writing and copy both sides. (2) Where the judge further concludes the attorney-defendant and his/her counsel both deliberately submitted materially false documents in an apparent attempt to hinder an unrepresented judgment creditor’s efforts to collect a lawful judgment through fraud or deception, the judge must report both attorneys to the grievance committee. (3) The judge may wait until the conclusion of the proceeding before reporting the attorneys.
Opinion 19-108 May a judge solicit funds from other judges in the Judicial District, over whom he/she has no supervisory or appellate authority, for a “Wellness Fund” to be used by the local Wellness Committee to fund social events for judges and employees to promote workplace collegiality and a positive work environment?
Opinion 19-109 A judicial candidate may pay his/her proportionate share of the actual expenses for a “petition signing party,” at which modest and reasonable refreshments are served, for the purpose of assembling registered voters to sign petitions, provided he/she concludes the campaign will receive fair value for the expenditure. However, the candidate must only circulate or request signatures on petitions as permitted by prior opinions.
Opinion 19-110 A judge must insulate his/her law clerk from cases in which the law clerk was personally involved during the law clerk’s prior public or private employment and must disclose that insulation to the parties and their attorneys. Insulation of the law clerk on this basis cannot be waived or remitted and does not expire. However, the judge need not necessarily insulate the law clerk from other matters involving the law clerk’s former employer or former clients, unless other factors create an appearance of impropriety in a particular case.
Opinion 19-112 Judicial candidates must take particular care to ascertain the truth of all claims they make about their election opponents and make every effort to avoid misleading the public with mere speculation or innuendo. Thus, a candidate may not (1) unjustly characterize an election opponent’s prior removal from the ballot as an inability to “follow the law” and/or a “flagrant disregard for the law” or (2) present hypothetical scenarios incorrectly suggesting unfavorable litigation outcomes that can only result from a judge’s failure to “follow the law” or other judicial misconduct.
October 9, 2019 Broadcast
Opinion 17-133 (1) Where a judge is currently facing criminal charges in a neighboring county, arising from accusatory instruments issued by the specialized department or agency that oversees a comprehensive regulatory scheme, the judge may resume or continue to perform his/her judicial duties, except that he/she must not preside in cases involving (a) the department or agency that issued the accusatory instruments, (b) other alleged violations of the same comprehensive regulatory scheme, or (c) the District Attorney’s office that is prosecuting him/her. (2) The judge may not undertake to serve as his/her co-judge’s assistant or subordinate during the pendency of the criminal charges by making non-binding recommendations on traffic tickets subject to his/her co-judge’s review and approval.
Opinion 18-157 Where an appellate judge with administrative or supervisory responsibilities concludes that a lower-court judge improperly contacted the judges participating in an appeal in an attempt to influence the disposition of the case, he/she (1) must ensure the incident is reported to the Commission on Judicial Conduct; (2) must direct that the improper communication be disclosed to appellate counsel in the case; and (3) may permit the appellate judges who received the improper communication to continue to preside in the case if he/she is satisfied they (a) can be fair and impartial and (b) can decide the appeal without reference to the improper communication.
Opinion 19-26 What ethical obligations does a judge have on learning of possible criminal activity by his/her tenant on premises the judge owns?
Opinion 19-34 May a judge ethically undertake, as a Medicaid planning tool, the process of spousal refusal set out in the Social Services Law?
Opinion 19-40 A part-time lawyer judge may concurrently serve as in-house counsel to the state’s education department, where he/she will research and draft opinions for the education commissioner in response to appeals from local school board decisions and licensing determinations.
Opinion 19-47 A judge may not have a court clerk enter the proposed fine on a motorist’s mail plea from a fixed schedule of fines developed by the judge -- even though the judge intends to personally review, confirm, initial and approve the fines entered by the clerk -- where the underlying fixed schedule pre-selects specific fines from the statutory range and therefore is likely to create an appearance that the judge has pre-judged certain categories of cases without individualized consideration of relevant legal factors.
Opinion 19-52 On these facts, a judge must not refer or sentence defendants to a restorative justice program sponsored by an alternative dispute resolution center where he/she volunteers as a small claims mediator. Once the judge terminates his/her involvement with the center, however, he/she may refer or sentence defendants to the center’s restorative justice program on a case-by-case basis if legally permitted and appropriate.
Opinion 19-57 Under the circumstances presented, the inquiring judges must take action with respect to an attorney’s alleged misconduct, but what action is appropriate is left to their sole discretion.
Opinion 19-74 A judge need not recuse him/herself if a court officer’s attorney appears on behalf of other clients, and neither insulation nor disclosure is required.
Opinion 19-76 Neither disclosure nor disqualification is mandated solely because a political party’s county leader appears as an attorney before a judge who is currently seeking the party’s support for elective judicial office, provided the county leader is not playing an active and significant role within the judge’s campaign and the judge can be fair and impartial.
Opinion 19-77 A part-time judge who serves on a historical society’s board of directors may participate in an audit review process of the organization’s records.
Opinion 19-79 A supervising judge who received a request from the Commission on Judicial Conduct for counseling memos, corrective action plans, and personal notes related to his/her supervision of certain judges currently under disciplinary investigation is not ethically required to provide such materials voluntarily.
Opinion 19-81 May a judge continue to preside in a criminal action where the defendant, a self-identified sovereign citizen, is attempting to file a fraudulent lien against the judge and has threatened to accuse the judge of treason if he/she does not protect what the defendant regards as his/her rights?
Opinion 19-82 May a judge permit his/her law clerk to work on cases in which the law clerk, in his/her prior employment, had previously provided coverage for a colleague at a single court appearance either as an 18-B attorney or as attorney for the child, if all parties waive the conflict?
Opinion 19-83 May a sitting judge authorize a candidate for non-judicial office to use a photograph of the two together, taken before the judge assumed the bench, for use in the candidate’s election campaign literature and keycards?
Opinion 19-84 Where a judge believes a recording, disclosed in an unsuccessful defense motion for a protective order in a now-completed criminal trial, reveals illegal conduct by a non-attorney/non-judge third party: (1) the judge may, but need not, provide a copy to the prosecutor; and (2) absent a law or ethics rule requiring defense counsel to produce the recording, the judge need not take any action concerning defense counsel's failure to do so.
Opinion 19-85 Although a full-time judge may provide informal, uncompensated legal advice to his/her second-degree relative behind the scenes, he/she may not be included among those permitted, by court order, to review the relative’s litigation opponent’s confidential financial information.
August 13, 2019 Broadcast
Opinion 19-54 Must a judge contact the DA’s office on learning that the DA’s non-attorney diversion program coordinator purportedly gave advice to a defendant concerning a guilty plea?
Opinion 19-55 (1) A full-time judge may serve as officer or director of a bar foundation that provides financial aid to individual attorneys in personal and professional crisis, although the judge must not personally participate in fund-raising or permit judicial prestige to be used for fund-raising purposes. (2) The judge may preside in matters involving attorneys receiving assistance from the foundation, where the judge’s contacts with them are relatively minimal and occur exclusively through a liaison who presents the case to the board. Disqualification is not mandatory unless (a) the attorney asks the judge to recuse him/herself or (b) the judge doubts his/her ability to be fair and impartial. The attorney must be advised that the judge will recuse on request, without explanation, if the attorney is uncomfortable with the judge presiding over a particular case as a result of the attorney’s participation in the foundation.
Opinion 19-56 A part-time judge may serve as a Department of Social Services attorney in the same county and handle neglect proceedings in Family Court. However, if the DSS role requires numerous recusals as judge, or becomes involved in prosecuting JD or PINS cases, then the judge must choose between the positions.
Opinion 19-58 A judge, whose spouse is a principal clerk in the District Attorney's office, may not preside in matters involving that office unless the judge (a) can be fair and impartial and (b) discloses his/her spouse's employment relationship. Because disclosure is required in lieu of outright disqualification, the judge must disqualify him/herself if any party is appearing without counsel in the matter. Otherwise, the judge has full discretion to preside after disclosure, even if a party objects.
Opinion 19-59 A judge whose second-degree relative is undersheriff (1) may not preside in matters involving the county sheriff’s department unless the disqualification is properly remitted but (2) may conduct centralized arraignment program arraignments not involving the county sheriff, even if held at the sheriff’s offices.
Opinion 19-60 A full-time judge may be an officer of a company owned solely by his/her third-degree relative, where the company is engaged solely in the business of holding and managing certain intellectual property assets created by a deceased relative.
Opinion 19-61 The Rules Governing Judicial Conduct do not preclude a town justice from requiring a defendant to perform community service with the town government, provided it is lawful to do so.
Opinion 19-62 A full-time judge may rent an apartment to a court officer who sometimes serves in his/her court.
Opinion 19-63 (1) A town justice may not agree to a private meeting with the town comptroller and town board member(s) for the express purpose of explaining and justifying an apparent decrease in revenue. (2) This prohibition does not preclude the judge from communicating with town officials concerning the amount of fines and fees collected and/or the court's budgetary needs, as permitted by statutes and prior opinions. (3) The judge may also publicly discuss the court's operations, including a decrease or increase in revenue, at a town board meeting or public forum, provided he/she (a) is careful not to cast doubt on his/her integrity, impartiality, and independence in adjudicating matters that could potentially result in revenue for the town and (b) avoids impermissible comment on any identifiable pending or impending case before him/her.
Opinion 19-64 What are a judge’s disciplinary obligations, if any, on receiving a judicial colleague’s written communication concerning an ongoing proceeding the colleague has before the Commission?
Opinion 19-66 What are a judge’s disciplinary obligations, if any, on learning that a judicial colleague has made an apparent legal or procedural error?
Opinion 19-68 A part-time judge may serve on a town's ad hoc committee to establish a process to determine which privately owned real properties may be sold to another governmental entity, provided the issues do not become matters of substantial public controversy.
Opinion 19-69 On these facts, a town justice who disqualified him/herself in one small claims case where a village police officer was a party is not automatically disqualified from hearing all future matters involving the village police, provided he/she can be fair and impartial, even though the justice mentioned his/her prior law enforcement career and "many close bonds and friendships" within the department. The judge may, in his/her sole discretion, clarify his/her rationale and/or explain in future cases that he/she can be fair and impartial.
Opinion 19-70 A judge may organize a financial educational seminar for fellow judges, featuring a speaker from a not-for-profit entity, provided the judge carefully avoids lending the prestige of judicial office to advance private interests.
Opinion 19-71 A town justice who also serves as principal court attorney in superior court for a designated youth part judge: (1) may arraign adolescent offenders in the county's centralized arraignment part; (2) must be insulated as a court attorney from (a) cases he/she arraigned in the centralized arraignment part and (b) all cases originating in or appealed from the town court; but (3) need not otherwise be insulated as a court attorney from adolescent offender cases merely because they were arraigned in the centralized arraignment part
Opinion 19-72 A judge need not disqualify him/herself, disclose the relationship nor insulate his/her secretary from a case involving a large public utility that employed the judge's secretary's non-lawyer, non-executive relatives in a division utterly uninvolved in the case.
Opinion 19-73 A judge may be the plenary speaker at a non-fund-raising event sponsored by a not-for-profit homelessness services network, where the judge will discuss religious/spiritual issues, mental illness, drug and alcohol addiction, and historical/moral progress in community responses to homelessness and will not address funding or government support for the homeless.
Opinion 19-75 A court attorney-referee, who works closely with part-time judges in his/her capacity as counsel to their administrative judge, may ordinarily preside when part-time attorney judges appear on behalf of private clients.
Opinion 19-78 A judge need not disqualify when an attorney appearing before the judge was the judge’s election opponent in a now-concluded political campaign, during which the candidates challenged the sufficiency of each other’s nominating petitions.
Opinion 19-80 (1) Where a village’s sexual harassment policy purports to subject all village officials and employees to corrective action or discipline at the local level and to impose new legal duties on them, a village justice (a) may acknowledge receipt of the policy but (b) must not agree to comply with it unless the judge determines he/she is legally required to do so. (2) The justice may attend, and permit the court clerk to attend, the village’s mandatory compliance training for sexual harassment and workplace violence, where the program is educational and preventive in nature. (3) The justice may permit the court clerk to certify he/she will abide by the village’s sexual harassment policy, provided that doing so does not interfere or conflict with the Rules Governing Judicial Conduct.
July 12, 2019 Broadcast
Opinion 19-20 A judge who decides in good faith he/she may legally execute and file an undertaking can do so without violating the Rules Governing Judicial Conduct.
Opinion 19-25 Where a town justice’s law firm formerly had a business relationship with another firm involving uncompensated courtesy referrals, the judge is disqualified from all cases in which the other firm appears for two years from the date their business relationship completely terminated. The disqualification is subject to remittal after full disclosure, provided no party is appearing without counsel.
Opinion 19-27 A judge is disqualified, subject to remittal, from presiding in a matter when an attorney from the law firm that currently represents the judge is a witness therein.
Opinion 19-28 Where an agency attorney initially accepted a court attorney position with the judge, but then declined the position without commencing employment, the judge may continue to preside in cases where the attorney appears, if the judge decides he/she can be fair and impartial. The judge need not disclose the unconsummated employment opportunity.
Opinion 19-29 A full-time judge (1) may not provide individualized assistance and guidance to his/her fellow congregants in completing their health care directives but may give a general lecture on the subject; and (2) may not volunteer as an escort for individuals unknown to the judge who are visiting an abortion clinic in the presence of pro-life protesters.
Opinion 19-30 Once a not-for-profit land trust becomes involved in a controversial contested agency proceeding affecting local conserved lands, a judge may not serve as its officer or director, but may still be a regular member provided he/she does not comment on the agency proceedings or otherwise publicly associate him/herself with the land trust’s positions on matters of public controversy.
Opinion 19-31 Where the town attorney has become ‘of counsel’ to a town justice’s law firm, so that the town is now the law firm’s client, the judge is disqualified from presiding in all cases where the town is a party, including in town code enforcement cases. If there is any likelihood that town code cases will come before the court, the judge must resign from one of the two positions.
Opinion 19-32 A part-time judge who is also a full-time college professor may participate in an academic research project analyzing data from the local centralized arraignment part’s first year of operation, and accept compensation from the college for this work pursuant to a grant administered by the office of court administration.
Opinion 19-33 A support magistrate who did not sell his/her former law practice, but instead simply forwarded clients’ files and transferred the remaining retainer balances to an attorney chosen by the clients, is disqualified, subject to remittal, in matters where the attorney appears for a period of one year following the transfer. Disqualification is not required for other members of the attorney’s firm.
Opinion 19-35 Where an attorney who practices in a specialized part manifests extremely rude, malicious, and belligerent behavior that, if true, appears to raise serious concerns about the attorney’s fitness to practice law: (1) the propriety of transferring the attorney’s cases to another venue is a legal or administrative question the Committee cannot address; (2) the attorney’s threats and complaints, without more, do not require any judge to disqualify him/herself, as long as that judge believes he/she can be fair and impartial; (3) a judge who questions his/her own ability to be fair and impartial in matters involving the attorney must disqualify him/herself from the attorney’s cases, and remittal is not available; (4) each judge must consider whether his/her own personal knowledge of the attorney’s overall alleged misconduct and unfitness to practice law as described in the inquiry is sufficiently reliable to satisfy the ‘substantial likelihood’ prong and, if so, he/she must report the attorney; (5) a judge who concludes that he/she is not ethically required to report the attorney may nonetheless exercise his/her discretion to do so; and (6) a judge who decides to report the attorney is disqualified from the attorney’s cases both while the disciplinary matter is pending and for two years thereafter. During this period, remittal is not available unless the attorney waives confidentiality or the grievance committee issues a published opinion.
Opinion 19-36 A full-time judge may not serve on the board of directors of a not-for-profit credit union that regularly appears in adversary proceedings.
Opinion 19-37 A judicial candidate’s campaign committee may use an electronic event invitation system that charges 2% of the ticket price per ticket sold to distribute fund-raising invitations and sell tickets.
Opinion 19-38 A part-time judge may not serve as a fire investigator in the same county where he/she presides.
Opinion 19-39 A judge need not disqualify him/herself merely because (1) the judge could potentially be called as a witness in another proceeding concerning a statement the judge does not recall hearing and (2) the judge once disqualified him/herself in another case involving the same attorney, due to an undisclosed conflict with another law firm.
Opinion 19-41 A judge may not serve on an advisory committee that makes recommendations to the District Attorney regarding a convicted offender’s application to vacate a prior conviction, even if the judge will not be personally identified in the recommendation and the DA maintains full authority over his/her response to the application before the court.
Opinion 19-43 May a part-time town justice preside in matters involving (1) the police officer-spouse of their co-judge or (2) the current law firm partners or associates of their co-judge?
Opinion 19-44 What are a judge’s disciplinary obligations concerning an attorney who, acting pro se, makes material false claims about the judge both in affidavits submitted in the case before the judge and in various other unrelated proceedings against the judge? If the judge reports the attorney, may he/she continue to preside in the case where the attorney is appearing pro se?
Opinion 19-45 A support magistrate may report a litigant’s apparently criminal conduct to law enforcement but is not ethically required to do so. Whether and how he/she may do so in compliance with applicable statutes and regulations raises a legal question, not one of judicial ethics.
Opinion 19-46 A town justice whose co-judge is unavailable to handle any cases (1) may undertake the strictly ministerial role of depositing and transmitting fine money received in cases previously adjudicated by his/her co-judge in fulfilment of statutory and regulatory directives but (2) must otherwise check for conflicts in any further proceedings involving the co-judge’s former caseload and disqualify him/herself when necessary.
Opinion 19-48 What are a judge’s obligations on receiving correspondence from opposing attorneys in a case expressing differing views on whether a suspended attorney was wrongly practicing law?
Opinion 19-49 A judge who previously ‘so ordered’ the parties’ settlement stipulation may thereafter preside in an application to enforce the stipulation and at an evidentiary hearing to resolve possible contractual ambiguities, where the judge has no extra-judicial knowledge of the parties’ intentions and believes he/she can be fair and impartial.
Opinion 19-50 A judge may not display a rainbow flag or rainbow heart sticker on the bench or in the courtroom.
Opinion 19-51 A judge is disqualified from Vehicle and Traffic Law matters in which the judge’s first-degree relative is the issuing police officer of a traffic infraction, and remittal is unavailable.
Opinion 19-53 A judicial candidate must not use a photograph of strangers that falsely implies the individuals depicted endorse the candidate.
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