There are several troubling aspects in a recent State Commission on Judicial Ethics determination that East Hampton Town Justice Lisa R. Rana violated New York Judiciary Law and the State Constitution’s Article 6 in assisting David Gruber’s 2019 campaign for town supervisor. First of all, it was a dumb thing to do, and second, when caught, Ms. Rana and Mr. Gruber vigorously insisted that they had done nothing wrong, when in, fact, they had already discussed that it would be bad news for them if they were found out. Making the episode seem even stupider, Ms. Rana had been cautioned before — in 2005 — by the ethics commission for an earlier elections-related transgression.
The problem now facing Ms. Rana is explaining satisfactorily how she could have engaged in prohibited misconduct. New York State does not allow judges and justices — or their family members — to be involved in campaigns for other candidates and limits strictly what they can say and do even on their own behalf. Ms. Rana knew about this but went ahead anyway, editing Mr. Gruber’s work, making changes that the ethics commission called both substantive and strategic and clearly not allowed.
It is very difficult to take seriously a sitting town justice who does not have absolute regard for the state law she is sworn to uphold. No matter how well liked she is or how extensive her ties are in the community, Ms. Rana was an active participant in a prohibited activity. As the ethics commission pointed out to Ms. Rana, the fact that she did so in secret did not make it magically okay. Ms. Rana is also the Sag Harbor court justice, and residents of that village should take a hard look as well into whether she should continue to serve in that role.
We were struck by Ms. Rana and Mr. Gruber’s bravado in 2019 when they were exposed. This was a moment when they should have quickly apologized and taken steps to make amends to opposing candidates. But they did not. Now, when given another opportunity, Ms. Rana, who remains a town justice, has not stepped up to openly admit to the deception and ask for the public’s forgiveness. This may be the saddest part of this entire mess.