Letter to the Editor: Betsy Harding on Judicial Campaign Ethics Print

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To the Editor:


Apr. 11, 2018:  Bronxville residents may be wondering why the village justice election held on March 20 is still causing so much controversy. Aside from the flaws in the mechanics of the election, the issues stem from an email sent by the Bronxville Republican chair to followers on the night of the election. This email violates rules governing judicial candidates and their campaigns that set a much higher standard of behavior than the rules for other candidates. Not only are the standards higher, the consequences of violating these rules are potentially much more severe.

The additional rules are set out in Rules Governing Judicial Conduct (22 NYCRR Part 100). Explanations and interpretations of these rules are contained in the Judicial Campaign Ethics Handbook, a 65-plus-page document issued by the New York State Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee. Anyone with patience can read the handbook online at https://www.nycourts.gov/reports/judicialcampaignethicshndbk.pdf. The rules are so exacting that all judicial candidates, other than those for village and town justice positions, are required to attend an education program on judicial campaign ethics.

The Republican chair's email has several problems. First, the email claimed that Indivisible Westchester "reportedly poured thousands into" Ms. Nordahl's campaign. While this might seem like a typical campaign falsehood designed to rev up "the base," in a judicial campaign it is a serious allegation particularly against a candidate who is self-funding and spending less than $1,000 on the campaign. The financial reporting requirements are different for such a candidate and accepting the alleged assistance, if it had happened, could lead to serious consequences.

Second, under the rules, judicial candidates and campaigns are not allowed to make false statements about opposing candidates. Campaign statements must be "consistent with the impartiality, integrity, independence and dignity of judicial office." To paraphrase the handbook, this means a judicial candidate and his campaign can't tell lies. The false statement in the email about participation in the election by Westchester Indivisible violates this rule.

Third, under the rules and for obvious reasons, judicial candidates whose campaigns accept contributions are not allowed to know who made the donations. These candidates must form a committee to receive the contributions, submit the required financial filings, and shield the candidate from any knowledge of who donated. The Republican chair's email asked that checks be made out to "Bill Primps for Village Justice" and mailed to Mr. Primps's home address. This is painfully wrong.

I am continuing to assume that Mr. Primps did not know about the email when it was sent out on his behalf. By now, he surely does know and can address the situation.

Betsy Harding

Editor's note:  Betsy Harding is chair of the Bronxville Democratic Party.

Editor's note:  MyhometownBronxville does not fact-check statements in letters to the editor, and the opinions do not necessarily reflect the thinking of its staff. Its objective in publishing letters to the editor is to give air to diverse thoughts and opinions of residents in the community.