State of Washington
Ethics Advisory CommitteeOpinion 05-06
May a judicial officer permit a child of the judicial officer to be employed in the clerk’s office in the court in which the judicial officer sits?
The court has three full-time judges and a part-time commissioner. There are over 30 full-time court employees. The court director, who is an at-will employee hired by the judges, has supervisory authority over all court employees. During previous summers the court has hired a high school or college age person to work part-time and on a temporary basis. This person helps fill in during summer vacation and/or extended leave of regular employees. The job is primarily filing and other clerical tasks. The position is only irregularly filled and is not advertised.
This summer, for 7-9 weeks, the daughter of one of the judges has applied, and been tentatively accepted to fill the part-time fill-in position during the vacation and extended leave of several regular employees. Pay will be minimum wage.
If the child is hired, the judge will not have any interaction with the daughter during the court day. The child has been advised to have no contact with the judge during the court day. Supervision will be carried out by the lead worker in the court and/or by the court director. The child will have stated and regular working hours and conditions. During much of the employment period, the judicial officer will be working in a different court location than the child.
CJC Canon 2 provides that a judicial officer should avoid impropriety and the appearance of impropriety and act in a manner that promotes public confidence in the judiciary. Canon 3 sets out the judicial duties of a judge and the requirement that these duties be performed impartiality and diligently. Canon 3(B) discusses the administrative responsibilities of judges and requires them in part to facilitate the performance of the administrative responsibilities of court officials, to require staff and court personnel subject to their direction and control to observe the same standards of fidelity and diligence that apply to the judicial officer, and that the exercise of appointments should be on the basis of merit, avoiding nepotism and favoritism.
The employment of the child of a judicial officer in the clerk’s office in the court where the judge sits violates CJC Canon 2 and 3(B) because it casts doubt on the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary. It does not matter that the child is hired by and reports to the court director. The court director is an at-will employee of the court’s judicial officers. The fact that there is no direct hiring or supervisory relationship with the child of the judicial officer does not remove the appearance that the judicial officer’s child received the court job because of the relationship to the judicial officer. Furthermore, the judicial officer is tasked in Canon 3(C) to facilitate the performance of administrative responsibilities of court official and to require that court officials and staff observe the same standards of fidelity and diligence that apply to a judicial officer. That includes the hiring of employees on the basis of merit, avoiding nepotism. Based on the foregoing, it is not proper for the child of a judicial officer to be employed in the clerk’s office in the court in which the judicial officer serves.
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