Spouse Wishes to Put Up Political Sign on Lawn Displaying Name of Candidate for State Representative

Opinion 2010-4

Dear __________:

This is in response to your inquiry of September 10, 2010.  You are an Acting Clerk-Magistrate in the District Court Department.  You and your spouse own your home as tenants by the entirety.  Your spouse wishes to put up a political sign on the lawn displaying the name of a candidate for state representative.  The representative's district does not include or abut any town within the jurisdiction of the court where you are Acting Clerk-Magistrate.  You ask for the committee's opinion regarding posting the sign on your lawn.

Under Canon 6 of the Code of Professional Responsibility for Clerks of the Courts, Clerk-Magistrates, other than those who are elected, are generally required to refrain from political activity. The general prohibition in Canon 6 is followed by four examples of political activity which are specifically prohibited.  Canon 6(2) states that a Clerk shall not "make speeches for a political organization or candidate or publicly endorse a candidate for public office".  In Opinion 90-3 , the committee concluded that holding a campaign sign is a political endorsement of a candidate.  

We recognize that the Code governs only Clerk-Magistrates and does not regulate the conduct of a Clerk's family.  The conduct of a family member, however, can have implications for a Clerk.  This is particularly the case where, as here, the conduct involves a residence owned by the Clerk and spouse as tenants by the entirety. The fundamental question is whether your spouse's act would create the appearance of a political endorsement by you, which is prohibited under Canon 6(2). See CJE Opinion 2005-8 discussing similar language in the Code of Judicial Conduct.  Given the circumstances of your joint ownership of your home, an observer would not be able to distinguish whether the sign is a political endorsement by you or by your spouse. Therefore, the sign would implicate you in political activity.  In our view, Canon 6 prohibits you from allowing a sign to be displayed on your property that may appear to connect you to a political campaign.