Whenever I’m stuck in traffic and every radio station has conspired against me to play commercials at the same time as they have a tendency to do, I thank the boredom gods for whatever clever person thought up the idea for vanity plates. As you may know, vanity plates are personalized license plates that can be funny or controversial. Last week, a report came out about whether or not they could be judicial.
The New York State Commission on Judicial Conduct began looking into the propriety of judicial vanity plates after an incident involving a Justice of the East Greenbush Town Court, who had SMA license plates (denoting her as a member of the State Magistrates Association). She was issued a ticket by a state trooper who was unaware of what the SMA plates meant. Upon finding out the significance of those three letters when he returned to the police station, the trooper retrieved the ticket which then vanished from the face of the earth.The report notes a couple of interesting facts about the judiciary and vanity plates. The first is that of the four judges on the Commission, two have judicial license plates. The second is that NY makes a fair chunk of change from judicial vanities to the tune of $70,000.
So what was the verdict? “Displaying a judicial license plate on a personal vehicle does not per se create an appearance of impropriety.” Definitely not a ringing endorsement, especially when one considers that the report is accompanied by a scathing dissent—you can tell it’s scathing because it refers to the preceding document as the Commission’s “Report”—about how judicial vanity plates work towards the personal benefit of the judge using them. The Commission encourages judges to weigh the pros and cons of having vanity plates, because abuse of power can lead to discipline.Tags: Judges, New York, New York State Commission on Judicial Conduct, Vainity Plates