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Vanity vehicle license plates are all the rage in Texas and other states. We now have a cottage industry where drivers can customize their mandated metallic vehicle identifiers using a variety of colors and designs to support a particular college, professional sports team, charitable organization and other groups. For years, judges in Texas and elsewhere have had the opportunity to avail themselves of specialized license plates denoting their judicial positions. Now, the New York Commission on Judicial Conduct has issued an opinion regarding such plates after complaints that they allowed judges to improperly influence police and avoid fines for traffic and parking violations.
In its opinion, the conduct commission held that judicial plates are not a per se violation of legal ethics rules that prohibit judges from exhibiting an appearance of impropriety, noting that judges should continue to be prohibited from using their judicial status to avoid the consequences of traffic stops or allowing family members or others who might be driving their vehicles from doing so. In a dissent, one commission member assailed the ruling, calling it an “exercise in evasion” and claiming judicial plates effectively represent the same thing as a judge asserting their judicial office in hopes of avoiding a traffic fine.
In any event, having a license plate identifying one as a judge is double-edge sword. Some judges decline them because, well, there are bad people out there who aren’t too fond of judges, and no one wants to be a target. Also, their utility in avoiding tickets is questionable. Being one of the state’s most powerful prosecutors did not help the Travis County district attorney avoid a trip to jail after a traffic stop for drunken driving. It’s only when the police actually show favoritism that it becomes a problem.
Posted: 9/4/2013 12:00:00 AM by
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Thanks for stopping by On the Merits, the first blog from the Texas Center for Legal Ethics. On the Merits will take a close look at significant legal stories with an eye toward addressing the legal myths and misconceptions that turn up in news stories, movies, TV programs, websites, anonymous emails and other forms of mass communications. Our goal at On the Merits is to provide readers with a thoughtful examination of what the media and others are saying about the legal profession and to apply the frequently-absent context of how the legal system actually works.
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