Special Committee Opinion 2018-17

Opinion 2018-17

The Special Committee on Judicial Election Campaign Intervention received a request for an opinion as to whether a current municipal judge, who is running for chancery judge, may film a commercial with the Judge in a robe on the bench when court is not in session.

In Opinion 2014-001, the Special Committee determined:

Canon 5A(3)(d)(iii) . . . prohibits a candidate for judicial office from knowingly misrepresenting his/her “qualifications, present position, or other fact concerning the candidate . . . .” The Special Committee has previously opined that a candidate who holds another judicial office may use the title “judge” in campaign literature if the material clearly identifies the circumstances justifying the use of the title and identifies the judgeship currently held. See Special Committee Opinion 2006-002. . . .

All candidates for judicial office are held to a high standard of accuracy in their campaign advertisements. Judicial robes, often used by candidates in judicial campaign materials, are a widely recognized symbol of judicial office. Like the use of the term “judge,” the depiction of a candidate wearing a judicial robe may be misleading in certain circumstances. For example, the depiction of a candidate wearing a robe when he/she currently holds no judicial office and has never held judicial office misrepresents the candidate’s present position and violates Canon 5A(3)(d)(iii). Furthermore, in those instances in which a sitting judge seeks a different judicial office or a former judge seeks judicial office, the depiction of the candidate wearing a judicial robe may also imply that the candidate currently holds the office sought. Therefore, the Special Committee is of the opinion that while a candidate who presently holds or previously held a judicial office may be depicted in campaign materials wearing a judicial robe, the advertisements must also clearly identify the office currently or previously held in an easily readable size and form, such that the materials will not mislead the voter as to the candidate’s present position.

Consistent with the previous ruling, the Special Committee on Judicial Election Campaign Intervention is of the opinion that a current municipal judge, who is running for chancery court judge, may film a commercial that depicts the candidate in a judicial robe if, as required by Canon 5A(3)(d)(iii), the candidate clearly explains the judicial role of the position the candidate held.

This opinion is consistent with Special Committee Opinion 2006-002 and Opinion 2014-001.

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