State of Washington
Ethics Advisory CommitteeOpinion 00-05
Is a judicial officer disqualified from hearing cases in which one of the parties or witnesses is renting or in the past has rented property managed by the spouse of the judicial officer?
The judicial officer’s spouse owns a property management company and manages approximately 300 rentals owned by other individuals. The management agreement requires the company to accept the rent and arrange for maintenance. On occasion, the property management company may contact an attorney on behalf of the property owner to institute unlawful detainer proceedings, but when that occurs, the judicial officer recuses from any proceeding involving the tenant.
CJC Canon 3(D)(1) provides that judges should disqualify themselves in a proceeding in which their impartiality might reasonably be questioned. The mere fact that a party or witness is either renting property or in the past has rented property, which is managed by the spouse of the judicial officer, would not in itself cause the judicial officer to be disqualified from hearing the matter.
The judicial officer should disclose the judicial officer’s spouse owns the property management company to any lawyer or party involved in an action before the judicial officer in which the judicial officer’s impartiality or the appearance of impartiality might reasonably be questioned because of the spouse’s ownership of the property management company.
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