2013-36 (August 6, 2013)
Rule 4.1; C.G.S. §9-410
Issue: May a Judicial Official sign a primary petition on behalf of a political candidate?
Additional Facts: When a person signs a primary petition, the signatures on the petition are subject to disclosure pursuant to the Freedom of Information Act.
Discussion: Rule 4.1 of the Code of Judicial Conduct, entitled Political Activities of Judges in General, states in relevant part, as follows:
(a) Except as permitted by law, or by Rules 4.2 and 4.3, a judge shall not:
Comment (3) to the foregoing Rule states as follows:
(1) act as a leader in, or hold an office in, a political organization;
(2) make speeches on behalf of a political organization;
(3) publicly endorse or oppose a candidate for any public office …
Subsections (a) (2) and (a) (3) prohibit judges from making speeches on behalf of political organizations or publicly endorsing or opposing candidates for public office, respectively, to prevent them from abusing the prestige of judicial office to advance the interests of others. See Rule 1.3.
Comment (5) to Rule 4.1 states as follows:
Judges retain the right to participate in the political process as voters in both primary and general elections.
Conn. Gen. Stat. § 9-410 sets forth the requirements for primary petition forms for candidates for nomination to municipal office or for election as town committee members. Subsection (a) of Conn. Gen. Stat. § 9-410 provides, in relevant part, that:
The form shall provide spaces for the names and addresses of candidates, the offices to which nomination is sought or the positions to which election is sought and the political party holding the primary, and shall provide lines for the signatures, street addresses, dates of birth and the printing of the names of enrolled party members
supporting the person or persons on behalf of whose candidacy the petition is used…. (Emphasis supplied.)
Subsection (b) provides in relevant part:
The names of enrolled party members signing a primary petition need not all be on one sheet but may be on several sheets, but no person shall sign more than one petition page for the same candidate or candidates. . . . Each such sheet shall indicate
the candidate or candidates supported, the offices or positions sought and the political party the nomination of which is sought or which is holding the primary for election of town committee members.” (Emphasis supplied).
Based on the facts presented and the language contained in Conn. Gen. Stat. § 9-410(a) and (b), which describe the enrolled party members signing the petition as “supporting” the candidate, the Committee unanimously determined that the proposed activity is prohibited by Rule 4.1(a)(3). Given this statutory language, and the fact that petitions are publicly available, a Judicial Officer’s signature on a petition could be viewed as a public endorsement of the candidate. In rendering this opinion, the Committee considered
Florida Opinion 92-32 (improper for judge to sign petition as it may be perceived as an endorsement of the candidate for public office);
Pennsylvania Formal Opinion 2000-1 (majority concluded that judge is prohibited from signing a nomination petition because it is the legal equivalent of a public endorsement and is not akin to exercising the right to vote);
New York Opinions 99-125 and 89-89 (signing a nominating petition is permissible because it is a miniscule act in the overall election process, akin to the voting process);
Arizona Opinion 03-05 (judge may sign a nominating petition provided petition is not intended to be used by candidate as an endorsement);
Wisconsin Opinion 00-2 (judge may sign a nominating petition for a partisan candidate for office, but the judge should consider the precise language of the petition and whether it may be used for any purpose other than filing with the appropriate public official); and
New Mexico Opinion 96-01 (judge may sign a nomination petition for a judicial candidate).
Committee on Judicial Ethics