State of Washington
Ethics Advisory CommitteeOpinion 06-05
May the niece of a judge’s spouse be employed by the court in which the judge serves if the court employee/relative is supervised by a court director and assistant court director who are at-will employees of the judges of the court?
A probation position opened in a two judge division of an eight judge district court. Each judge in that division has his or her own probation officer who works exclusively on that judge’s cases.
After interviewing the applicants, the top candidate was the niece of the spouse of one of two judges. After consulting with the county human resources department, it was determined that the hiring of this person did not violate any county policy regarding relatives if certain conditions were met. They included the following: 1) the employee is not involved in the judge/relative cases; and 2) the judge/relative is not involved in the supervision of that employee.
This person was then hired as the probation officer for a non-related judge and the county’s conditions have been strictly complied with. The court employee has done an exemplary job as a probation officer for the nine months since the person has been hired.
The probation department employees are supervised by the assistant director of the court. The assistant director reports to the director of the court. Both the assistant director and the director are at-will employees of the eight judges of the court.
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 addresses judicial duties and the standard that they be performed impartially 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 observe the same standards of fidelity and diligence that apply to the judicial officer.
In addition to the provisions set forth in the Code of Judicial Conduct, the duties and authority of presiding judges are set out in GR 29. That court rule provides in part at section (f)(5) that the presiding judge supervises the daily operation of the court including all personnel assigned to perform court functions.
The employee in this situation is the niece of one of the judges. A niece is not defined specifically as a member of the judge’s family under the CJC Terminology Section unless the niece is a relative with whom the judge maintains a close familial relationship.
If the judge does not maintain a close familial relationship with the court employee/niece, the employment is permissible if there is no appearance that the niece received the court job because of the familial relationship with the judge. Even though the hiring of the niece does not run afoul of the Code of Judicial Conduct, the court must adopt a protocol to ensure that at a minimum the court employee is not involved in the judge/relative cases and that the judge/relative is not involved in the supervision of the court employee/relative.
If the judge does maintain a close familial relationship with the court employee/relative, the employment is prohibited because it is a violation of CJC Canon 2 and 3(B).
Also see Opinion 05-9 for a discussion of the things a court may want to include in a protocol when a judge is related to a court employee.
|Courts | Organizations | News | Opinions | Rules | Forms | Directory | Library|
|Back to Top | Privacy and Disclaimer Notices|