N.Y. Curbs on Judicial Hopefuls Upheld

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From Associated Press

State rules that largely bar judges and candidates for the bench from campaigning are constitutional, the state’s highest court decided Tuesday.

The pair of rulings by the Court of Appeals effectively put the state Commission on Judicial Conduct back into the business of regulating politicking by judges and judicial candidates.

Last year, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down restrictions on campaign statements by judges in Minnesota. But the New York court said Tuesday that the state’s rules are different from Minnesota’s because they restrict candidates’ statements during campaigns without prohibiting them outright.


Free-speech protections must be balanced against the public’s right to a fair and impartial judiciary, the court said. To that end, comments by judicial candidates that indicate how they might rule on issues or regard certain defendants cannot be tolerated.

“Judges must apply the law faithfully and impartially -- they are not elected to aid particular groups, be it the police, the prosecution or the defense,” the court said. “Campaign promises that suggest otherwise gravely risk distorting public perception of the judicial role.”

Tuesday’s rulings upheld the commission’s censure of state Supreme Court Judge Ira Raab, and reduced the recommended removal of Lockport City Court Judge William Watson to a censure.

Raab participated in a Working Families Party phone bank in support of a Nassau County legislative candidate in 2000, the commission said. Watson had publicly promised throughout the 1999 campaign to get tough on outside troublemakers in Lockport.

Raab’s attorney, John Cuti, said he plans to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. “The 1st Amendment is principally about the freedom to express your political views,” he said.

Watson’s lawyer, Terrence Connors, said his client was “elated about the decision.”