A New York State oversight agency admonished a judge who presides over East Hampton Town Court and Sag Harbor Village Court for helping a local political candidate, which violates judicial ethics rules.
The New York State Commission on Judicial Conduct admonished Justice Lisa Rana on March 18 for engaging in inappropriate political activity by editing essays and letters to the editor authored by David Gruber, who unsuccessfully tried to unseat East Hampton Town Supervisor Peter Van Scoyoc in 2019.
Rana “admitted that she participated in prohibited political activity and prohibited campaign activity when she edited candidate Gruber’s draft submissions,” the commission wrote in its admonishment. “Even political activity that is anonymous violates the rules. [Rana] also violated the ethical rules when she provided strategic political advice to candidate Gruber.”
Rana, a Republican, was advising Gruber, a Democrat running on the Independence and Libertarian lines against the Democratic incumbent. The East Hampton Star, which received some of the letters along with the East Hampton Independent, first reported on the issue when an editor noticed that the judges name was highlighted in the “track changes” editing function on the files submitted to the newspapers.
“The letter that was sent to the Indy and Star did have the tracking turned off, yes?” Rana wrote to Gruber. “Otherwise, they will see my name attached to the corrections?? That would be very bad … indeed.”
Gruber denied sending files showing Rana edited his letters. But when a reporter questioned her about it at the time,, Rana admitted editing the letters and denied that she violated the rules. She later acknowledged to the commission that she knew providing anonymous political advice to a candidate was wrong.
Rana, an attorney for 28 years who grew up in East Hampton, has been a town justice since 2004 and village justice since 2011. Her terms for both posts expire in 2023.
“She did not edit any political opinion essays and letters to the editor for any other political candidate and will not do so in the future,” the commission wrote. “Prohibited political activity is not rendered
permissible by being conducted anonymously. While judges are permitted to engage in political activity on behalf of their own campaigns for judicial office, the ethical rules strictly prohibit a judge’s direct and indirect engagement in political activity…
The commission concluded, “We trust that respondent has learned from this experience and in the future will act in strict accordance with her obligation to abide by all the rules governing judicial conduct.”