As noted on the official website of the Unified Court System, the Ethics in Government Act of 1987 was enacted “in order to promote public confidence in government, to prevent the use of public office to further private gain, and to preserve the integrity of governmental institutions. The Act accomplishes those goals by prohibiting certain activities, requiring financial disclosure by certain State employees, and providing for public inspection of financial statements.”
Pursuant to the Act, judges and justices of courts of record – that is, all courts except the town and village courts – and non-incumbent candidates seeking election to courts of record – are required to file annual financial disclosure statements, similar to that filed by other state officials and state government employees. Since 1990, the Ethics Commission for the Unified Court System (UCS Ethics) has been responsible for administering the distribution, collection, review and maintenance of annual financial disclosure statements. The powers, duties and procedures of the USC Ethics are set forth in 22 NYCRR Parts 40 and 7400.
Typically, when a judge is delinquent in submitting the annual statement and fails to respond to notices to cure, USC Ethics advises the Commission, which is likely to undertake an investigation. Where investigation reveals a valid excuse, the Commission will not impose discipline.
Too often, however, the explanations are not persuasive – e.g., the judge was busy, or misplaced the disclosure form, or did not check the mail carefully enough for it, or was distracted by personal matters. In such cases, the Commission has typically issued a Letter of Dismissal and Caution, reminding the judge of the obligation not only to file but also to file promptly.
Fortunately, most judges take their financial disclosure obligations seriously, and the need for USC Ethics to make referrals to the Commission is relatively rare. Nevertheless, the Commission thinks it appropriate to remind the judiciary that a failure to file in a timely manner could subject a judge to public discipline.
From the 2008 Annual Report, page 23.