99 N.J.L.J. 714
August 12, 1976
Serving as School Board Attorney;
Associates Participating in Politics
The inquirer is a partner in a law firm consisting of three
partners and one associate. He serves as the attorney for the board
of education of a regional high school district, which is an
elected autonomous body. One of his partners serves as surrogate of
the county which includes the municipalities comprising the
regional district. The inquirer is being considered for appointment
by the borough council of one of the municipalities included within
the regional district as judge of the municipal court.
1. Under these circumstances the inquirer asks whether his serving as municipal court judge would conflict with his position as board attorney for the regional school district. If so, may the matter be resolved by his disqualifying himself as judge when the board finds it necessary to file charges or appear in the municipal court?
This question is not an ethical inquiry within the jurisdiction of this Committee, R. 1:19-2, but a substantive question of dual office-holding within the competence of the judiciary itself. See R. 1:17-1(a); Schear v. City of Elizabeth, 41 N.J. 321, 325-329 (1964); Reilly v. Assured, 33 N.J. 529, 536, 541- 543, 548-550 (1960). Therefore, we do no more than to suggest that the inquirer request the approval contemplated by R. 1:17-1 which provides that a judge may not "without prior written appraisal of the Supreme Court, requested through the Administrative Director of the Courts, hold any other public office, position or employment."
2. The inquirer also asks whether the prohibition contained in R. 1:17-1 against engaging in politics would apply to his partners and associates if he were so appointed.
R. 1:17-1(a) provides that a judge "shall not hold any elective public office nor be a candidate therefor, nor engage in political activity...." No part of R. 1:17 purports to extend this prohibition to partners or associates. We think that if the Supreme Court had intended any such extension, it would have said so. Cf. R: 1:15-4. There is no other court rule or other authority which overcomes the effect of this significant omission. Accordingly, we hold that if the inquirer is appointed municipal judge, the prohibition against engaging in politics contained in R. 1:17-1(a) would not automatically apply to his partners or his associate. However, this is not to say that a partner or associate, as a result of his political activity or otherwise, could ever properly assume a governmental post, the duties of which would be incompatible with the duties of the inquirer as municipal judge. See cases cited in discussion of first question, supra. And any partner or associate participating in politics would have so to conduct himself that no suspicion could arise that the inquirer's
judicial activities might be influenced by the political preferences of such partner or associate. See In re Hayden, 41 N.J. 443, 445 (1964).