State of Washington
Ethics Advisory CommitteeOpinion 00-07
Is a part-time judicial officer disqualified from presiding over cases involving a litigant who is also a party to a lawsuit in which one of the defendants is a deputy prosecuting attorney who supervises the judicial officer in the capacity as deputy prosecuting attorney?
The judicial officer is a part-time municipal court judge and also employed as a county deputy prosecuting attorney. At the prosecutor’s office, the judicial officer handles criminal appeals, provides general advice to the civil division of the sheriff’s office and is not involved in either criminal or civil litigation at the trial court level.
A criminal complaint has been filed in the municipal court where the part-time judicial officer presides. The defendant in that matter has filed a number of lawsuits in both state and federal court against various government entities and officials.
The same defendant has also recently filed a civil lawsuit which named a deputy prosecuting attorney as a defendant. That deputy prosecuting attorney is the supervisor of the part-time judicial officer at the prosecutor’s office.
The part-time judicial officer has no involvement in the lawsuit and as a prosecuting attorney will not be appearing as an attorney for any of the defendants. No one in the prosecutor’s office has consulted with the judicial officer about the lawsuit. The judicial officer’s only familiarity with the lawsuit comes from reading the complaint.
CJC Canon 3(D)(1) provides that judges should disqualify themselves in a proceeding in which their impartiality might reasonably be questioned. The fact that a criminal defendant has filed a lawsuit wherein someone in the prosecuting attorney’s office is named does not require the judicial officer’s disqualification. The criminal case over which the judicial officer would be presiding is not related in any way to the pending civil lawsuit. The judicial officer is not a party to the lawsuit and does not have any personal knowledge about it. The judicial officer should disclose that he or she is a part-time employee in the prosecutor’s office at the time the criminal matter comes up for hearing but is not disqualified from hearing it.
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