A Rochester City Court judge seems to have broken a fundamental principle of judicial ethics by participating in a large group of Democratic, government and non-profit officials in an effort to orchestrate the selection of the next president of the Monroe County Legislature.
In an email sent from his official judicial account – at 11:18 a.m. on Tuesday, Dec. 5 – City Court Judge Michael C. Lopez coached some 40 progressive activists on how to argue for and advance the candidacy of Yversha Roman as president of the legislature as it reorganizes in the new year. The email looks to be Judge Lopez’s rewrite of a set of talking points for activists to parrot as they argue for the election of Roman.
The effort seems to be a prima facie violation of the ethics governing Lopez and all New York judges. Further, the use of email accounts belonging to governments and federally funded non-profits for this political purpose seems to likewise be a violation of ethics and law.
“Neither a sitting judge nor a candidate for public election to judicial office shall directly or indirectly engage in any political activity,” states Section 100.5 of the New York code of judicial conduct. The rule is restated in a delineated clarification barring judges from “engaging in any partisan political activity.”
This is definitely that.
The involvement of Judge Michael Lopez in this political organization is a forbidden activity and, should there be an official complaint filed, is apt to lead to an official sanction by the state Judicial Conduct Commission. That would be true for any sitting judge no matter the circumstances. Pushing this further over the line is the use of his official nycourts.gov email account for this political purpose.
His use of that account, at 11:18 in the morning on a week day, also raises the question of whether or not he used court resources – like the court computer and his court chambers – to write the email, and if he did so during the work day, when he was supposed to be attending to court business.
Beyond the ethical and regulatory issues related to the judge’s writing and sending of the email, there is the issue of the propriety of its many recipients using their government and non-profit emails to engage in political activity. The recipients are not covered by judicial ethics, obviously, but their respective organizations – depending on their nature – may face regulatory restriction.
Like the federally funded Ibero American Action League, whose email system received the Michael Lopez memo on at least eight separate accounts. Further, its affiliated non-profit, Ibero Development, received it twice. Also receiving the political email were official work accounts of the City of Rochester, the County of Monroe and the Rochester City School District, as well as the non-profit Action for a Better Community and the health-insurance non-profit Excellus.
Governments and non profits that receive federal money – like a large majority of them do – are forbidden from using their resources for political purposes, and from trying to influence elections and policy decisions. That means their employees can’t use their resources – like work email accounts – to engage in politics.
In short, the whole thing is a train wreck.
And this is a smoking gun.
But the likelihood is that it will be ignored and swept under the rug, that there will be neither discipline nor apology and that this flagrant ignoring of law, ethics and regulation will continue – because this group of progressive elites is untouchable. They are all Democrats and their intertwined system of government and non-profit money enriches and empowers them all. They are the feudal lords of Latino Rochester, bonded by an intersectionality of socialism and self-interest.
They want government money and the legislature president decides where government money goes so they are going to decide who the legislature president is.
Which is all well and good, except you can’t have a sitting judge writing the talking points, you can’t use the court email system, and you can’t do political business on a government or non-profit email system.
And everybody knows that.
And nobody on that email cared.
Well, almost nobody. Because the email leaked. And why did it leak? Because at least one of those recipients, regardless of his or her thoughts on the suitability of Yversha Roman to be legislature president, knew that it was dirty.
And you can’t do the right thing the wrong way.
Kick the judge out of the group, use personal emails instead of work emails, and go campaign for whomever you want for whatever you want. That’s fine.
But this isn’t.
This is one more sad example of some of the most powerful people in Rochester demonstrating that they don’t believe the rules apply to them.