The Voice is endorsing Rick Wallace for City Court Judge.

This is an editorial. As always, The Voice is eager to reprint alternative or dissenting viewpoints.

Ithaca, N.Y. — ​When two candidates in one race both inspire support, voters look for a “separator” — something that might give one the edge.

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​City Judge Seth Peacock and local attorney Rick Wallace give voters plenty to admire. They came to the law very differently, but with similar dedication and a larger sense of service.

At a candidate’s forum in August, and throughout the campaigns, there has been little daylight between the candidates on issues like reforming drug court and improving sentences for non-violent offenders. So it might appear that it’s hard to choose between Peacock and Wallace on Tuesday.

​Alas, however, one of them has handed voters a separator. Judge Peacock’s endorsement of a gubernatorial candidate — in violation of state rules — and his subsequent fumbling of the issue raise serious doubts about his judgment. And judge-ment is everything for a judge, after all.

The Voice is endorsing Rick Wallace for City Court Judge.
The Voice is endorsing Rick Wallace for City Court Judge.

​Let’s recap: On Oct. 15, Peacock appeared at a rally for Howie Hawkins, Green Party candidate for governor. He openly endorsed Hawkins, several times, in a brief speech. The appearance at the rally and the public endorsement were clear violations of explicit state rules governing the conduct of judges and judicial candidates.

​That was bad enough. Peacock compounded the problem. He refused to answer any questions about why he did it and whether he was aware of state rules.

​Later, he implied to The Ithaca Journal that a U.S. Supreme Court case out of Minnesota justified his political activity: “In 2002 there was a U.S. Supreme Court case, Minnesota v. White, that dealt with similar types of restrictions on judicial candidates, and in that case the Supreme Court struck down these type of restrictions as violating the First Amendment.”

​Only that case didn’t deal with “similar types” of restrictions, nor did it strike down “these type of restrictions.” In fact, these very types of restrictions remain on the books — in Minnesota and, more to the point, in New York.

​Furthermore, the top court in New York state has already decided this issue — and cited the Minnesota case in doing so. The state Court of Appeals in the “Raab” case in 2003 upheld the censure of a state Supreme Court judge for engaging in political activity banned in the same section that applies to what Peacock did.

​“Unlike other elected officials,” the Court wrote, “judges do not serve particular constituencies but are sworn to apply the law impartially to any litigant appearing before the court.”

​“Precisely because the State has chosen election as one means of selecting judges, there is a heightened risk that the public, including litigants and the bar, might perceive judges as beholden to a particular political leader or party after they assume judicial duties.”

​That’s why the rules exist. To keep the bench as impartial and free of any taint of bias or favoritism as humanly possible.

​So we’re left with several possibilities, all unflattering to Judge Peacock: Either he didn’t know the state rules of conduct that govern judges, made a rookie-judge mistake, then failed to own up to it and grasped for a legal rationale after the fact; or, he did know the rules and openly defied them — despite the Constitutional question already having been settled by the state’s highest court; or — well, fill in the blanks, because he didn’t feel compelled to explain his actions with any transparency at all.

Peacock’s apparent breaking of the rules follows the revelation that he was barred from two judges’ courtrooms for botched appearances.

By contrast, Wallace has been rated “highly qualified” by the Independent Judicial Elections Commissions. No other candidate has earned the distinction.

​Judges rule by law. Therefore, they must live by it.

Vote Rick Wallace Nov. 4.

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Jeff Stein is the founder and former editor of the Ithaca Voice.