State of Washington
Ethics Advisory CommitteeOpinion 00-15
May a full-time family law commissioner market a product, designed to calculate child support, to attorneys who may appear before the commissioner, provided that the product is sold in such a way as to avoid any connection between the commissioner and the product? Does it make a difference if the product is marketed, and customer support is provided by a member of the commissioner’s family? May the commissioner make the product available to other members of the court, either at the normal price or at cost?
The product is a hand-held child support calculator which enables attorneys to prepare worksheets in court and during settlement negotiations. The program which the commissioner developed, like the other commercial child support calculation programs, is a means of doing mathematical calculations established in the child support schedule. It would not produce different results from other programs, it just makes it more convenient to do the calculations in court.
The product was developed, and several units sold around the state before the commissioner was appointed. The commissioner’s name has never been associated directly with the device, which has been marketed under a trade name by a company owned by the commissioner and the commissioner’s spouse. Many of the previous customers however, know the commissioner is the creator of the product.
If the product continues to be made available, it would be available only by mail or internet purchase, and would continue to be sold by the company, without any indication the commissioner is connected to the company. No time would be spent during court hours marketing or supporting the product.
It is likely that users of the device will appear before the commissioner, and have occasion to use the device in the courtroom. Users are also likely to appear before other judicial officers in the county, who either use the product, or who are aware of the commissioner’s connection with the product.
CJC Canon 2(A) provides in part that judges should conduct themselves in a manner that promotes public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary. Canon 2(B) provides in part that judges should not lend the prestige of the judicial office to advance the private interests of the judge. Canon 5(C)(1) provides that judges should refrain from business and financial dealings that tend to reflect adversely on their impartiality, interfere with the proper performance of their judicial duties, or involve them with lawyers likely to come before the judge.
In the facts as set forth above, the judicial officer may continue to market a child support calculating device which was developed by the judicial officer before assuming the bench. The judicial officer will not be marketing the product personally and the product is not marketed in the judicial officer’s name. Additionally, no court time will be spent marketing or supporting the device.
The product may be marketed and support provided by a company owned by the judicial officer and the judicial officer’s spouse so long as in so doing there is no exploitation of the judicial office and the business does not reflect adversely on the judicial officer’s impartiality or with the proper performance of judicial duties. The judicial officer may make the product available to other members of the court, either at the normal price or at cost but no marketing of the product should take place during normal court hours.
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