At least once a year, the Commission receives and investigates a complaint alleging that a judge is misusing a perk of the office, i.e. an official New York State Judiciary dashboard placard identifying a car as belonging to a judge. Although such placards are intended for use only when on official business, it comes to our attention that some judges are using them to evade parking restrictions near home, while shopping or dining out, or on other occasions clearly not associated with official court business.
In May 2019, Chief Administrative Judge Lawrence K. Marks issued a statewide memorandum to all judges of the unified court system, noting that the use of such placards had again become “an issue of public concern.” While he said he believed misuse of parking placards was rare, he was compelled to remind the judiciary that the “Rules and Limitations of Use” dictate that parking placards “may not be used for parking at home or when [the judge] is not performing official duties.” Moreover, they are intended only for parking and should not be displayed when driving, to avoid the implied assertion of judicial office when stopped for a suspected motor vehicle infraction.1
The Commission underscores Judge Marks’ message and takes this opportunity to remind judges that in this era of ubiquitous electronic devices, it is easy for an alert citizen to take a cellphone photo of a car in, say, a residential neighborhood, parked with a judicial placard displayed on the dashboard, on a Saturday afternoon – and send it to the Commission with a complaint that the time and place were not likely related to official court business.
Placard misuse is easy to avoid, and even if the Commission disposes of a placard-related complaint with a confidential cautionary letter, the aggravation and blemish to a judge’s disciplinary record is not worth the money saved by displaying the placard rather than paying for parking.
1The Rules Governing Judicial Conduct require that a judge must uphold the integrity of the judiciary and prohibit a judge from lending prestige of judicial office to advance his or her own private interests (Sections 100.1 and 100.2 (C).
From the 2020 Annual Report, page 25.