Recently Broadcast Opinions

The Committee's published opinions are searchable online and on Westlaw. In addition, many opinions are sent to the Buffalo Law Journal, the Magistrate, the New York Daily Record, and/or the New York Law Journal.

 

The Advisory Committee on Judicial Ethics recently issued the following opinions, which are linked below.

  • Opinions are not in strict numerical order; they are grouped by date of distribution.
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  • NEW! To see recently broadcast opinions grouped by subject matter, please visit the Subject Matter Index page. (Coverage starts with Opinion 15-01.)
  • For a searchable list of earlier broadcast opinions, please visit the Broadcast Opinions Archive.

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April 15, 2021 Broadcast

Opinion 20-190 (1) A judge who objected orally and in writing to the appearance of their name in an email soliciting funds for a charitable cause need not take any further action. (2) A judge may contribute their personal funds, either alone or with a co-judge, to sponsor a family in need, and may be identified by name and title in doing so. However, the judge may not make charitable contributions in the name of the court or permit their court staff to do so.

Opinion 20-196 A town justice may respond to an inquiry from the town board and/or town supervisor concerning the performance of a town employee who has appeared before the judge for several years. The judge may comment on matters within the judge’s personal knowledge and observation, which may include their opinion about the employee’s ability to apply the law, knowledge of the law, and overall quality of work.

Opinion 20-198 A town justice may suggest that the town board amend the local leash law to include an additional, alternative sanction for violations of the ordinance, that would allow the court to order defendant dog owners to confine their repeat offender dogs in a manner that will prevent future violations.

Opinion 20-204 On assuming full-time judicial office, must a new judge have their name removed from the glass of the shared suite in which they previously practiced law? Must they relinquish the office of notary public? May they collect a legal fee on a matter that is being handled by another attorney, where any legal fees are contingency-based and the judge is “expecting a fee once a settlement is reached”?

Opinion 20-207 Where a judge has already determined that it is necessary to report another judge for an apparent incident of “ticket-fixing,” the judge is not relieved of the duty to report merely because the other judge resigned from the bench in the interim.

Opinion 20-209 A full-time judge may not be a member of a bar association task force organized to monitor and discuss fiscal and human rights issues faced by residents of a United States territory.

Opinion 20-210 Where a law firm’s managing partner is the sibling of a New York State judge, a Surrogate’s Court judge in a county specified in Section 36.1(a)(11) may not appoint any attorney of the law firm to serve as the Public Administrator, nor may the Surrogate appoint the law firm as counsel to the Public Administrator. The Surrogate may nonetheless appoint eligible members of the law firm who are on the Part 36 list to serve in other fiduciary positions except as Public Administrator and counsel to the Public Administrator.

Opinion 20-211 Where a judge’s spouse supervises assistant county attorneys in family court neglect and abuse cases, and a criminal case before the judge has material and relevant connections to a family court neglect and abuse case: (a) if the judge’s spouse is either directly involved or supervising assistant county attorneys in the “related” case, the judge must disclose the connection and their spouse’s role, but need not disqualify unless a party is appearing without counsel; and (b) if the judge is satisfied that their spouse has no supervisory or direct involvement in the “related” family court case, the judge may preside without disclosure. NOTE: Modified by Opinion 21-22(A), which abolishes the "pro se remittal" rule.

Opinion 20-212 A full-time judge may not serve on the advisory board of the Center for Court Innovation, given that the Center regularly provides program alternatives to detention and incarceration for criminal defendants.

Opinion 20-213 A judge with personal knowledge that an attorney knowingly assisted a client in effectuating a transfer of disputed real estate under false pretenses must report the misconduct to the appropriate grievance committee. Reporting may await the conclusion of proceedings. After making the report, the judge is disqualified in all matters involving the attorney, both while the disciplinary matter is pending and for two years thereafter.

Opinion 20-214 A part-time judge who is an ordained minister, and who is legally permitted to solemnize marriages in that capacity, may establish a for-profit business to solemnize marriages as an ordained minister and advertise such business, provided there is no use, mention or connection to the judge's judicial status.

Opinion 20-215 A full-time judge may participate, without compensation, as an interviewee and consultant for a commercially-produced documentary concerning a case the judge prosecuted several decades ago, provided the case has completely terminated and no related proceedings are pending or impending.

Opinion 21-01 A town justice, who serves as village attorney for a village which is wholly encompassed within the town where the justice presides, may not continue as town justice and village attorney where the town court would be expected to hear all cases arising out of the village, including actions to enforce village zoning, parking and other local laws. The justice may not recuse from all village cases in order to retain both positions.

Opinion 21-02 A judge who believes that the statutory obligation to provide a reason for discretionary recusal is unconstitutional may act in accordance with a legal determination made by the judge on the record, but may not conceal the true basis of the judge’s ruling.

Opinion 21-04 A judge has no ethical obligation to vacate their decision in a criminal case, merely because the defendant was the judge’s student several decades ago and they remain friendly acquaintances.

Opinion 21-05 A judge must not preside in a criminal case that has been transferred to drug treatment court where the judge entered a single appearance as the prosecutor in the underlying criminal case.

Opinion 21-06 May a judge preside in matters involving an attorney who is the sibling of the judge’s close personal friend, where that attorney is merely an “acquaintance” under Opinion 11-125?

Opinion 21-07 The judge, a former assistant district attorney, may not preside in: (1) a criminal case in which the judge had some minimal prior involvement as an attorney; or (2) a criminal case in which a prior conviction, which the judge prosecuted approximately a decade ago, is an element of the felony offense.

Opinion 21-09 Where a party or attorney has advised the court that their preferred gender pronoun is “they,” a judge may not require them to instead use “he” or “she.”

Opinion 21-11 A full-time judge may volunteer as a participant in a COVID-19 study conducted by a hospital and may accept the same modest per-visit compensation as other participants.

 

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March 24, 2021 Special Broadcast - Important Opinion on Remittal

Opinion 21-22(A) Remittal of disqualification is a three-step process requiring full disclosure on the record of the basis for disqualification and the voluntary affirmative consent of the parties and their counsel. However, we no longer prohibit remittal of disqualification merely because a party is unrepresented. We hereby modify our prior opinions to abolish that requirement.

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February 23, 2021 Broadcast

Opinion 20-174 A full-time judge (1) may not serve as power of attorney for an elderly former client, unless the judge maintained a "longstanding personal relationship of trust and confidence" with them and obtains written permission from the Chief Administrative Judge; (2) may not chair certain local hospital entities, where their only function is fund-raising; (3) may serve as a trustee of private not-for-profit foundations which make grants to other not-for-profit organizations and accept a nominal annual director's fee, subject to the limitations on compensation for permissible extra-judicial activities; and (4) may serve as a compensated trustee of a not-for-profit cemetery association that oversees the cemetery's endowment and makes expenditures to maintain the cemetery, subject to the limitations on compensation for permissible extra-judicial activities.

Opinion 20-178 May a full-time judge, who served as a referee in foreclosure before assuming the bench, continue to hold the monies in escrow pending a court order directing their release?

Opinion 20-179 A judge may not send a letter describing the court’s issuance of a bench warrant, where defense counsel has suggested the warrant was improper and could result in civil liability.

Opinion 20-181 Must a judge take any action with respect to the submissions of a town justice in support of a town court clerk’s pistol permit application?

Opinion 20-184 May a multi-bench judge accept an award for domestic violence awareness month in their capacity as a treatment court judge, from a not-for-profit legal advocacy group that sometimes appears before the judge in family court?

Opinion 20-185 (1) A judge who previously served process for a supervisory assistant district attorney’s private law office is (a) permanently disqualified, without the possibility of remittal, from any case in which the judge served process and (b) disqualified, subject to remittal, from matters involving that law office for two years after the business and financial relationship between them completely ends. The judge may nonetheless preside in uncontested traffic cases where the defendant pleads guilty by mail. (2) Where the judge previously served process and performed contracting work for a private law firm that also employs the judge’s spouse as a secretary, the judge is (a) permanently disqualified, without the possibility of remittal, from any case in which the judge served process and (b) disqualified, subject to remittal, from matters involving that law firm for two years after the process serving and contracting relationship completely ends or until the judge’s spouse’s employment ends, whichever is later. NOTE: Modified by Opinion 21-22(A), which abolishes the "pro se remittal" rule.

Opinion 20-187 May a full-time judge be a limited liability partner in a limited liability partnership which will apply to be a franchisee of a for-profit business, where the judge would only be a “passive investor” and “would not be involved in day-to-day operations or management of personnel” if the application is successful?

Opinion 20-189 May a town justice continue to serve in that role if their first-degree relative runs for and is elected to the co-judge position in the same court?

Opinion 20-191/20-192 Where a judge hears conflicting reports about another judge's possible comments at a meeting, but has no personal knowledge of these comments and is unable to conclude there is a substantial likelihood that the other judge said anything improper, they have no obligation to take any action.

Opinion 20-193 (1) A town justice may not speak at a town board meeting concerning a proposed town resolution opposing extension of the big game hunting season. (2) The judge may share a copy of the proposed resolution with others if it is a public record or if the town board has otherwise made it available to the public.

Opinion 20-194 A part-time judge may serve on a county's criminal justice council, which will bring together a diverse group of stakeholders to discuss issues affecting the criminal justice system and seek cooperative solutions where possible.  

Opinion 20-195 (1) A judge need not disclose, in a matter currently pending before the judge, a prosecutor’s ex parte communication asking if the judge would honor a grand jury subpoena concerning a related but now-concluded case, where the communication contained no information pertaining to the merits of the pending matter. (2) The judge may continue to preside unless the judge believes they cannot be impartial.

Opinion 20-197 A principal court attorney who hears and reports cases in foreclosure and matrimonial matters may not serve as executor of a former client’s estate, unless they establish to the Chief Administrative Judge’s satisfaction that they maintained a “longstanding personal relationship of trust and confidence” with the decedent and the Chief Administrative Judge approves the appointment in writing.

Opinion 20-199 A judge may be a regular member of a not-for-profit civic entity, organized by local homeowners, that seeks zoning changes in the judge’s neighborhood, but may not serve on its board of trustees or otherwise be involved in the entity’s leadership.

Opinion 20-201 Must a judge report information sent to them by a third party which alleges misconduct by local law enforcement agencies and the local district attorney’s office, where the judge has no first-hand knowledge of the alleged misconduct and is unable to ascertain whether any particular attorney has likely violated any ethical rules or rules of professional conduct?

Opinion 20-202 After receiving any administrative approvals that may be required, judges may collaborate with the Historical Society of the New York Courts on a project to contextualize existing art and memorials at the courthouse and install new thematic artworks created by artists from marginalized groups.

Opinion 20-203 May a judge volunteer as a “bell ringer” for the Salvation Army’s Red Kettle campaign, if the judge’s name, title and participation are not identified or announced?

Opinion 20-205 On these facts, a full-time judge may not accept a speaking engagement to discuss a not-for-profit organization’s experience in navigating a highly controversial licensing application and appeal process.

Opinion 20-206 As described, the proposed plea reduction form is impermissible.

 

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February 9, 2021 Broadcast

Opinion 20-108 A full-time judge who underwent surgery at a not-for-profit hospital may not participate in a web program concerning performance of the hospital during the pandemic, pursuant to a comprehensive release which authorizes the program’s use of the judge’s name, likeness, picture, image, voice, personality, personal identification information and/or protected health information for any purpose whatsoever in perpetuity.

Opinion 20-157/20-160 A judge need not object to their spouse independently hosting a political fund-raiser for a candidate at the marital home, but the invitations must not refer to the judge and the judge must not appear or participate in the event.

Opinion 20-158 An appellate division justice who learns that a law firm’s website features screen shots and video of the court’s oral arguments, in which the court’s justices are visible and readily identifiable, must ask the law firm to remove them. The court may, in its discretion, post a notice on its own website advising that images and videos of the court’s justices shown on the court’s website or otherwise may not be used to advance private interests or in furtherance of any commercial purpose. The court and its justices need not monitor lawyer websites but upon learning of any such misuse in the future, a justice should object and request that the offending images be removed.

Opinion 20-159 A judge is not disqualified when the assistant town attorney appears before the judge, even if the attorney obtains the party’s endorsement and becomes a candidate for non-judicial office on the judge’s slate.

Opinion 20-161 Upon a judicial association’s filing of a disciplinary complaint against a District Attorney, its member and officer judges are not disqualified from matters in which the District Attorney appears.

Opinion 20-162 A part-time judge may serve on a subcommittee concerning the establishment of a county-wide centralized arraignment part, even where that subcommittee was created by a task force on which the judge cannot serve due to its apparent immersion in probation department programs or internal policies. The judge may also share their experience conducting off-hours virtual arraignments.

Opinion 20-163 (1) Provided the Surrogate can be fair and impartial, they need not disqualify in matters involving the Public Administrator’s office merely because (a) they relieved the PA of certain duties and (b) the PA thereafter commenced an Article 78 proceeding and filed complaints with an anti-discrimination agency and the Commission on Judicial Conduct. (2) The Surrogate need not disqualify while the Commission is investigating the PA’s complaint, but if the Commission formally charges the Surrogate with misconduct in a formal written complaint, the Surrogate must disqualify from matters involving the PA’s office.

Opinion 20-164 Whether or not a judge may hold two part-time judicial positions in the same municipal court is a legal question beyond this Committee’s jurisdiction. If it is determined that the dual service described is legally permissible, such serving would not otherwise violate any ethics rules or principles under Part 100. If there is a legal impediment to such service, the judge may not so serve.

Opinion 20-165 A judge may ethically decline to participate in a district attorney’s traffic diversion program.

Opinion 20-166 May a town justice sign a form acknowledging compliance with an Information Resources and Technology Acceptable Use Policy adopted by the town board, where the policy purports to impose new duties and penalties for non-compliance?

Opinion 20-167 There is no ethical incompatibility between foster parenthood and part-time judicial office.

Opinion 20-168 A full-time judge may serve on a bar association’s internal nominating committee, to consider and recommend individuals who are seeking board and officer seats within the bar association.

Opinion 20-169 May a Surrogate serve as trustee of a local community college?

Opinion 20-170 The Committee does not answer hypothetical or speculative questions.

Opinion 20-171 May a judge make a charitable donation to a 501(c)(3) living history farm for educational agricultural programming and/or a not-for-profit fund-raising drive for cancer research? May a judge make a temporary change in their personal appearance to help raise awareness of the need for cancer research?

Opinion 20-172 A part-time attorney judge (1) may accept an 18-B assignment to appear before a full-time judge if the assignment does not involve an ethical or legal conflict but (2) may not represent a parent in a custody proceeding where recent or pending criminal proceeding(s) in the judge’s court brought by the other parent could affect a disposition in the custody proceeding.

Opinion 20-173 A judge may not advise the police that they would approve a warrant for a higher-level charge.

Opinion 20-175 May a full-time quasi-judicial employee accept part-time employment with a private agency doing remote legal document review?

Opinion 20-176 A full-time judge may seek post-retirement listing on an ADR Provider’s roster. The judge need not disclose or disqualify in matters involving the “appeal” of decisions made by the ADR Provider’s special masters unless the ADR Provider itself appears or has a financial interest in the outcome of the proceeding.

Opinion 20-177 A town or village justice has discretion, based upon the totality of circumstances involving the law enforcement officer assigned to their court, to permit, or not, the officer to distribute a prosecutor’s plea agreements in or adjacent to the court at the prosecution’s request. In exercising this discretion, the judge must consider factors such as the officer’s actual and apparent role in court proceedings and the need to avoid even the appearance that the court itself is serving as an intermediary for the prosecution.

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January 7, 2021 Broadcast

Opinion 20-102 A full-time judge may obtain a patent and license it to another.

Opinion 20-105 Under the circumstances presented, a full-time judge should not participate, in any capacity, on a bar association subcommittee tasked with addressing issues concerning the upcoming elections.

Opinion 20-113 A full-time judge may accept reasonable compensation from the home team as a sports referee for collegiate matches, even those involving SUNY/CUNY schools, where the judge is doing so “for or on behalf of” a not-for-profit sports organization independent from the competing teams.

Opinion 20-114 May a judicial candidate make certain statements in their campaign concerning the conduct of the incumbent judge who is not seeking re-election and/or make certain pledges or promises concerning their own prospective conduct if elected?

Opinion 20-116 A full-time judge may serve on the board of “location and building” for a not-for-profit religious organization, where the position involves no fund-raising responsibilities.

Opinion 20-119 A full-time judge may serve on the advisory board to a local public charter school, where the advisory board is separate and apart from the school’s board of directors and is not responsible for the school’s operations or budget.

Opinion 20-120 May a town justice continue to serve on the town court if their first-degree relative assumes the other town justice position?

Opinion 20-122 May a town justice adopt a procedure for handling uniform traffic tickets, whereby the court will (1) schedule the prosecution to come in first to review the tickets and “essentially fil[e] a written plea offer with the Court” by writing the plea offer on the ticket and signing it and then (2) on a later date, advise defendants that the ADA “has filed with the Court a written plea offer as follows”?

Opinion 20-126 A judge must make inquiries concerning their spouse’s ongoing business arrangements with local attorneys and determine if disqualification or disclosure is necessary. The appropriate frequency for inquiring is a fact-specific determination to be made by the judge based on their own assessment of the overall circumstances.

Opinion 20-130 On the extraordinary circumstances presented, this judge must insulate their law clerk from matters involving a particular family.

Opinion 20-132 A judge who donates to a fund established to create and install a public monument honoring a federal judge may also solicit co-equal judicial colleagues to contribute. The judges’ names and titles may be listed with other contributors on a plaque erected with the statue. The judge must not solicit participation from non-judges or any judges over whom he/she may have supervisory or appellate authority.

Opinion 20-133 A judicial candidate may not attend or participate in a fund-raising event for a slate of judicial and non-judicial candidates where the candidate’s name is displayed on the invitation.

Opinion 20-134 May a town justice serve on the review planning board for the same town in which they preside?

Opinion 20-136 A judge may write and submit an opinion article to a legal publication outlining what the judge considers flaws in an instrument that judges are currently required to use to assess the potential risk of re-offense.

Opinion 20-137 A part-time judge may serve on the board of a not-for-profit emergency medical services organization, where the position is not subject to public election, does not involve any peace officer status or investigative roles, and is not likely to be seen as intertwined with law enforcement functions.

Opinion 20-138 Where a judge rents an apartment to a not-for-profit organization that provides free transitional housing to homeless individuals, the judge is disqualified, subject to remittal, in matters involving a litigant who is currently residing in that apartment. If the judge’s tenant’s placements result in frequent disqualifications, the judge must terminate this landlord/tenant relationship or divest him/herself of the investment. NOTE: Modified by Opinion 21-22(A), which abolishes the "pro se remittal" rule.

Opinion 20-140 Where a judge’s law firm represents a non-supervisory assistant public defender at a real estate closing, may the judge thereafter preside in matters where that attorney or others from the same public defender’s office appear, once the matter is concluded? NOTE: Modified by Opinion 21-22(A), which abolishes the "pro se remittal" rule.

Opinion 20-142 May a full-time judge serve on the general board of a religious denomination, which has “primary authority with regard to non-ecclesiastical policies and plans” of the denomination?

Opinion 20-144 A judge may not lend the prestige of judicial office to unequivocally support a grant application of a transition program without addressing any necessary objective facts, qualifications and/or information concerning the judge’s perspective, and personal knowledge and experience with the program.

Opinion 20-148 Where a judge and their spouse are alleged victims with an order of protection against a criminal defendant, the judge may nonetheless preside over unrelated matters involving the prosecutors, defense counsel, and police or probation officers from that criminal case. The judge also need not disqualify merely because an attorney in the case called or cross-examined the judge or their spouse as witnesses.

Opinion 20-152 A judge has the discretion to determine whether or not to accept a guilty plea under the circumstances described.

Opinion 20-154 A judge is not disqualified from presiding over an action merely because the judge knows that the unrepresented defendant has, in a completely unrelated legal matter, retained the judge’s sibling as counsel. NOTE: Modified by Opinion 21-22(A), which abolishes the "pro se remittal" rule.

Opinion 20-155 May a full-time judge form a for-profit company to provide instruction and education on topics involving diversity, equity and inclusion?

Opinion 20-156 A full-time judge may consult with an attorney regarding the judge’s possible medical malpractice case, even if the attorney regularly appears before the judge. If the consultation is more than strictly brief and preliminary, the judge will ordinarily be disqualified, subject to remittal where permitted, in matters involving the attorney and others from the same law office.

 

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December 10, 2020 Broadcast

Opinion 20-85 A judge may write and post a book review online, provided it is not for the purpose of promoting the book’s sale. The judge must not authorize use of the review on the book jacket or elsewhere to promote sales of the book.

Opinion 20-101 A judge may display photographs and other memorabilia of current and former elected federal officials in his/her chambers but must be mindful of the overall content, context and circumstances of the display to avoid any appearance of impropriety.

Opinion 20-103 May a full-time quasi-judicial official serve on the board of a local bar association’s charitable foundation?

Opinion 20-107 May a town court provide only a copy of the weekly town court calendar to only the Assigned Counsel Program on an on-going basis?

Opinion 20-109 May a full-time judge serve on the board of a not-for-profit organization involved in supporting the historic preservation of buildings, making recommendations for the establishment of historical districts, granting support for rehabilitation projects, and providing loans to other organizations with similar goals?

Opinion 20-110 (1) A part-time lawyer judge may serve as co-counsel on a matter with a private attorney who is a non-supervisory assistant conflict defender in the same county. (2) The judge may continue to preside in unrelated cases involving other attorneys from the conflict defender’s office, provided he/she can be fair and impartial, and disclosure is not required. (3) While the judge and attorney are serving as co-counsel on this case, and for two years after it completely terminates, the judge may not preside in matters involving the attorney unless he/she fully discloses the co-counsel relationship on the record. If any party is appearing without counsel, or if the judge doubts his/her own impartiality, the judge must simply disqualify him/herself.  NOTE: Modified by Opinion 21-22(A), which abolishes the "pro se remittal" rule.

Opinion 20-115 What are a judge’s obligations when he/she knows an attorney appearing before him/her is also representing the judge’s spouse and his/her sibling to probate their parent’s estate and handle related matters? NOTE: Modified by Opinion 21-22(A), which abolishes the "pro se remittal" rule.

Opinion 20-121 It is improper for a judge to serve on a county legislature's task force, where the judge's proposed involvement seems to immerse the judge in helping the probation department implement its programs or internal policies, and the legislature has not mandated judicial branch participation.  

Opinion 20-123 A town justice may also work as a legal assistant at the appeals and opinions bureau of the attorney general’s office. NOTE: Modified by Opinion 21-22(A), which abolishes the "pro se remittal" rule.

Opinion 20-124 A village judge must not consent to intrusions by the village police or the executive branch on the court’s independence.

Opinion 20-127 What are a judge’s ethical obligations on learning, from the attorneys’ own submissions in a case, that their clients failed to file tax returns for multiple years?

Opinion 20-129 May a full-time judge be trained, and thereafter serve, as an election poll clerk?

Opinion 20-131 A judge who was formerly a prosecutor may speak to an ethnic/cultural affinity group, made up of employees at the prosecutor’s office, about the judge’s experience as a prosecutor, the judge’s career path, and the court system’s adaptation to virtual operations.

Opinion 20-135 Where a judge is aware that an attorney before him/her was recently an associate in a law firm that is currently representing the judge, but is satisfied that the law firm’s former associate (1) had absolutely no awareness of or involvement in the judge’s representation while employed by the firm, (2) has fully ceased employment with the firm, and (3) has no ongoing business or financial relationship with the firm, disclosure is solely within the judge’s discretion.

Opinion 20-139 A court attorney-referee must disqualify him/herself in small claims real property tax assessment review proceedings that involve properties in his/her own neighborhood or in any other area of the town where a ruling might affect his/her own real property assessment. If any party is appearing without counsel, the disqualification is not subject to remittal. NOTE: Modified by Opinion 21-22(A), which abolishes the "pro se remittal" rule.

Opinion 20-141 Where a full-time judge’s personally appointed law clerk has neither a quasi-judicial title nor functions, the judge may permit the law clerk to participate in peaceful “Black Lives Matter” protests away from the courthouse during non-working hours, but must instruct the law clerk not to comment publicly on a pending or impending case by carrying signs calling for the arrest or prosecution of certain police officers in another state.

Opinion 20-146 A full-time judge may not accept appointment to a federal health agency’s advisory council focused on improving public health among minority populations.

Opinion 20-147 May a judge participate in an exploratory committee formed by the Public Defender and the District Attorney to consider the possible creation of a district court system in the judge’s county?

Opinion 20-149 May a full-time Court-Attorney Referee answer the Governor’s call to be a poll worker, given this year’s shortage of workers as result of the global pandemic?

Opinion 20-183 May a town justice serve on their town’s “Police Reform and Reinvention Collaborative,” which was formed in response to the Governor’s Executive Order 203?

 

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October 2, 2020 Broadcast

Opinion 20-41 A full-time judge may not attend the annual weekend conference sponsored exclusively by the New York State Association of Black and Puerto Rican Legislators Inc. in Albany, New York.

Opinion 20-81(A) A judge (1) may be enrolled in a political party, but may not otherwise be a member of a political organization; (2) may serve on the advisory board of a not-for-profit organization dedicated to preservation of a historic theater, subject to certain limitations; (3) may not create or participate in a Go Fund Me campaign to raise money for a charitable cause, where the judge’s involvement would not remain strictly behind-the-scenes in planning fund-raising but instead would be used to promote the campaign; (4) may join a not-for-profit organization’s board to review scholarship applications from, and award scholarships to, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals immigrants; and (5) may use his/her judicial title in internal bar association communications as a bar association committee chair.

Opinion 20-81(B) A part-time judge may appear as legal commentator/analyst on television or online streaming shows, provided he/she does not comment on any pending or reasonably foreseeable cases in the United States or its territories.

Opinion 20-81(C) A part-time judge may not serve on the board of ASISTA.

Opinion 20-84 A full-time judge who formerly served as an assistant corporation counsel may participate in a panel discussion on legal careers for the law department’s summer interns.

Opinion 20-90 A judge may not oppose an elected federal official or candidate for non-judicial public office in an editorial opinion piece.

Opinion 20-95 A part-time judge may not serve as a business agent for a correction officers' union.

Opinion 20-98 Where a judge is being sued for acts allegedly undertaken in his/her former official capacity as a city attorney, rather than for conduct in his/her individual capacity: (1) During the representation, the judge is disqualified, subject to remittal, from matters involving the specific city attorney(s) who are personally involved in the judge’s representation. Once the representation concludes, the judge may preside in matters involving those attorneys, provided he/she can be fair and impartial, and disclosure is entirely in his/her discretion. (2) Both during the representation and afterward, the judge may otherwise preside in matters involving the city and other co-defendants, city employees and other witnesses, and city attorneys who have no involvement in representing the judge, provided the judge can be fair and impartial. Disclosure is within the judge’s discretion. NOTE: Modified by Opinion 21-22(A), which abolishes the "pro se remittal" rule.

Opinion 20-100 Where a judge’s first-degree relative has retained litigation counsel and sued a hospital: (1) During the litigation, the judge (a) must make full disclosure when the hospital appears before him/her, but may thereafter preside as long as he/she can be fair and impartial and no party is appearing without counsel but (b) is disqualified, subject to remittal, in matters involving an attorney who is involved in representing the judge’s first-degree relative, either directly or in a supervisory capacity; (2) For two years after the matter terminates, the judge must make full disclosure when either the hospital or his/her relative’s former counsel appears before him/her, but may thereafter preside as long as he/she can be fair and impartial and no party is appearing without counsel; (3) After the two-year period, the judge may preside in matters involving his/her relative’s former litigation opponent and former counsel without disclosure, provided he/she can be fair and impartial. NOTE: Modified by Opinion 21-22(A), which abolishes the "pro se remittal" rule.

Opinion 20-106 Where a judge's prior financial connection with a commercial real estate trust completely terminated over a decade ago, the judge may preside over a lawsuit in which a subsidiary of that trust is a party.

Opinion 20-111 Judicial candidates may attend virtual political fund-raising events during their window period, subject to the usual limitations on price and number of tickets, provided they attend and appear on screen along with other attendees.

Opinion 20-128 On these facts, it is the obligation of the judge who wishes to be a member or leader in a not-for-profit entity to determine if it invidiously discriminates, engages in partisan political activity, or will insert the judge unnecessarily into public controversy.

Opinion 20-143 It is permissible for a town security officer, who is a village police officer and not a court employee, to distribute the District Attorney's plea offers to arriving defendants, provided the judge and court clerk/staff have absolutely no actual or apparent involvement in their handling or distribution.

Opinion 20-145 A judge may drive members of a religious congregation in another state to their local polling sites, provided this effort is completely independent of any political organization or candidate and the judge avoids impermissible political activity.

Opinion 20-150 A judge who appointed a receiver in a now-concluded case may not, either at the receiver's request or on his/her own initiative, intervene or support the receiver's petition for representation by the Attorney General's office in a civil lawsuit alleging the receiver committed fraud. However, if the AG's office contacts the judge concerning the receiver's application, the judge may properly respond to questions within his/her personal knowledge.

Opinion 20-151 (1) A judge who files a disciplinary complaint against the District Attorney based on a prosecutorial policy that affects all local courts in the county is disqualified while the disciplinary proceeding is pending, and for two years after it is resolved, in any case where the District Attorney personally appears. Remittal is not available during this period unless the grievance committee imposes public discipline, or the District Attorney waives confidentiality. (2) The judge may nonetheless preside in cases where assistant district attorneys of the same office appear, even though the District Attorney is counsel of record, provided the judge is satisfied they did not set the policy and assuming he/she can be fair and impartial.

 

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August 6, 2020 Broadcast

Opinion 20-40 May a new full-time judge p reside in certain matters involving his/her former law partner and his/her court attorney’s former law firm or former clients? NOTE: Modified by Opinion 21-22(A), which abolishes the "pro se remittal" rule.

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. NOTE: Modified by Opinion 21-22(A), which abolishes the "pro se remittal" rule.

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. NOTE: Modified by Opinion 21-22(A), which abolishes the "pro se remittal" rule.

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.

 

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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. NOTE: Modified by Opinion 21-22(A), which abolishes the "pro se remittal" rule.

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.

 

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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. NOTE: Modified by Opinion 21-22(A), which abolishes the "pro se remittal" rule.

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. NOTE: Modified by Opinion 21-22(A), which abolishes the "pro se remittal" rule.

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. NOTE: Modified by Opinion 21-22(A), which abolishes the "pro se remittal" rule.

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. NOTE: Modified by Opinion 21-22(A), which abolishes the "pro se remittal" rule.

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?

 

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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? NOTE: Modified by Opinion 21-22(A), which abolishes the "pro se remittal" rule.

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.

 

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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. NOTE: Modified by Opinion 21-22(A), which abolishes the "pro se remittal" rule.

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.

 

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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.

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