State of Washington
Ethics Advisory Committee
- May a judicial officer who has not previously acted in a case sign ex parte orders in which a client of the judicial officer’s former law firm is a party?
- May a judicial officer preside over contested matters in which a former client is a party? If disclosure of the prior relationship is required, is the written notice posted in the courtroom sufficient or should notice be made made orally on the record?
- May the judicial officer participate with the court director and fellow judges when the court considers its choice for an agency to collect unpaid court costs and fines when the contract comes up for renewal or renegotiation?
Before coming on the bench in 1999, the judicial officer’s law firm represented a collection agency. The firm ceased that representation on an ongoing basis in 1992 when the collection agency began using in-house counsel. The judicial officer’s former law firm did perform some limited legal services for the collection agency from that time until the judge came on the bench. The judicial officer has recused from all cases, in which the collection agency is a party, including ex parte and contested matters, since coming on the bench. The judicial officer has posted the name of the in-house counsel in the courtroom as having assisted in the judicial officer’s campaign and having previously practiced with the judicial officer.
- CJC Canon 3(C)(1) provides in part that judges should disqualify themselves in a proceeding in which their partiality might reasonably be questioned.
- A judicial officer who has not previously acted in a case as a lawyer or witness and who has no personal bias or prejudice concerning a party, or personal knowledge of disputed evidentiary facts concerning the proceeding may act in a case by signing ex parte orders in which the client of the judicial officer’s former law firm is a party.
A judicial officer may also preside over contested matters in which a former client is a party provided the judicial officer has not been a lawyer or witness in the case and has no personal knowledge about a party or disputed evidentiary facts in a case. Based on the representations set forth above, it is not necessary for the judicial officer to disclose orally on the record the fact that the judicial officer’s law firm at one time represented the collection agency. The written notice is the courtroom is sufficient to advise attorneys and parties about the past relationship to the client and also advise that in-house counsel at one time practiced with the judicial officer and assisted in the judicial officer’s campaign.
- The judicial officer may participate with the court director and other judges when the court considers its choice for an agency to collect unpaid court costs and fines when the contract comes up for renewal. The judicial officer may need to disclose the past association with the collection agency and the law firm which represents it during the course of the contract renewal period if there are circumstances which would cause a reasonable person to feel such disclosure would be relevant. For example, if other collection agencies were also interested in pursuing the court contract, the judicial officer should disclose the past relationship to those other agencies.
The Supreme Court adopted a new Code of Judicial Conduct effective January 1, 2011. In addition to reviewing the ethics advisory opinions, the following should be noted: