State of Washington
Ethics Advisory CommitteeOpinion 03-08
May a judicial officer write a letter for an attorney’s discipline file at the Washington State Bar Association?
The lawyer and Bar Association counsel have agreed to suspension for a lawyer. The lawyer would like the stipulation to include a statement about the lawyer’s professional performance, not as a mitigating factor but as an acknowledgment that the lawyer is considered to be an excellent trial attorney.
The judicial officer has been asked to provide a letter, which will be part of the Bar Association file. The lawyer has appeared in court before the judge on many occasions and is an excellent trial attorney.
CJC Canon 2(B) provides in part that judges should not testify voluntarily as character witnesses. Canon 4 permits judges to engage in activities to improve the law, the legal system and the administration of justice if in doing so they do not cast doubt on their capacity to decide impartially any issue that may come before them.
The judicial officer may provide a letter to the Bar Association in which the judicial officer will provide factual testimony, based on the judge’s personal observations, as to the professional skills of the trial attorney who has appeared many times in the judge’s courtroom. The letter will be part of the attorney’s Bar disciplinary file. Because the Bar Association operates as an arm of the Supreme Court in regulating the practice of law, it is permitted by Canon 4.
See Opinions 88-5 and 87-10.
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