Except for a defined “Window Period” when they are actually running for judicial office, or when exercising a fundamental democratic right such as voting in an election, judges may not engage in political activity. 22 NYCRR 100.0(Q). When in their Window Period, candidates for judicial office, including incumbent judges, are subject to certain guidelines that to not apply to candidates for legislative or executive office. Section 100.5 of the Rules Governing Judicial Conduct sets forth both the permissible and prohibited activities of judicial candidates.
The Commission publicly admonished a judge in 2022 for violating the political activity rules, and two others resigned and agreed never to seek or accept judicial office in the future1. In Matter of Coffinger, for example, a judge was admonished for soliciting contributions for a political organization’s fundraising event and making misrepresentations about one of her opponents.
One valuable and easily accessible resource for judicial candidates is the Judicial Campaign Ethics Center (JCEC), which operates in conjunction with the Advisory Committee on Judicial Ethics. Among other things, the Center responds to candidate inquiries, publishes useful guidelines, and administers a course on judicial campaign ethics, which may be completed in person, by video or via the internet. All candidates for election to judicial office, other than those for town or village court justice, are required by the Rules Governing Judicial Conduct to complete the JCEC program or an accredited alternative “no later than 30 days after receiving the nomination for judicial office.” 22 NYCRR 100.5(A)(4)(f).
Every year, the Commission is advised of numerous candidates who fail to take the course on time or at all. This is an easily avoidable transgression. Yet some candidates seem willing to risk future discipline for ignoring this and other political rules in order to enhance their chances of getting elected. Such conduct undermines public confidence in the judiciary, which should be separated from politics as much as possible, and which the Rules endeavor to achieve by limiting their partisan activity to when they are actually running for judicial office.
A judicial candidate or candidate’s representative should consult with the JCEC, whose protocol is to respond promptly to campaign-related inquiries because time is usually of the essence. Moreover, the JCEC web page should be consulted routinely for its valuable links to such documents as the Judicial Campaign Ethics Handbook, recently published Advisory Opinions and guidelines on the appropriate way to dispose of unexpended campaign funds.
1See, Matters of Coffinger, Andreassen, and Berliner.
From the 2023 Annual Report, page 24.