Opinion 23-08

February 2, 2023


Question:         The inquiring judge is the successor judge in a civil matter which was decided by another judge before their term ended. The prevailing party has submitted a judgment for signature by the successor judge, consistent with the ruling of the ex-judge. However, the successor judge believes that the ruling and judgment are contrary to the law. The successor judge asks 1) whether the ethics rules require the judge to sign the judgment; 2) what alternative steps the inquiring judge may take; and 3) whether the ex-judge may sign the judgment in their current quasi-judicial capacity.



Discussion:       The inquiring judge is not ethically required to sign a judgment decided by a prior judge (see Opinion 16-42 [concluding it is a legal question whether a judge may sign a final decree of judicial settlement following disqualification of the judge who issued the underlying decision]). To the contrary, on these facts, the successor judge ethically should not sign a judgment that the judge in good faith believes is contrary to law. As we have previously noted, “judges have the inherent power to determine what law governs the exercise of their obligations” and therefore, “a judge who makes a good-faith legal determination of the legal issues involved, and makes a good-faith effort to follow governing law, does not thereby violate the Rules Governing Judicial Conduct” (Opinions 21-56; 16-68).


As to the remaining questions, we conclude they cannot be answered without interpretation of either statutory language and/or relevant case law, if any. Such legal questions are beyond our jurisdiction (see Judiciary Law § 212[2][l]; 22 NYCRR 101.1). Accordingly, we must decline to respond (see e.g. Opinions 14-195; 18-45).


Enclosed:         Opinions 21-56; 18-45; 16-68; 16-42; 14-195.