State of Washington
Ethics Advisory CommitteeOpinion 07-03
May a part-time judge in Y Municipal Court, who is also the part-time judge in X District Court, preside over a matter in which the attorney/county commissioner acts as counsel? If the part-time municipal court judge is disqualified, may the part-time municipal court judge appoint an out-of-county judge pro tem to preside over the matter in which the attorney/county commissioner acts as counsel?
One of the current elected county commissioners in X County is an attorney. The attorney was recently elected as a county commissioner. The county commissioner position is part-time. The attorney/county commissioner plans to practice law part-time. Prior to assuming the part-time commissioner position, the attorney/county commissioner was a senior criminal deputy prosecuting attorney for X County.
The attorney/county commissioner has recently filed a notice of appearance in a criminal matter in Y Municipal Court. The attorney/county commissioner represents the defendant. The Y Municipal Court operates in the same space (e.g., courtroom, clerk’s office) as the X County District Court. The City of Y reimburses X County for a pro-rated portion of the space it occupies and pays the county an agreed upon amount for its use of office supplies, equipment and the court clerks, who are county employees. The reimbursement formula is based on a comparison of the caseloads of the two courts and is subject to periodic review by the city and the county commissioners.
The judge is an elected part-time judge in X County District Court and also the appointed part-time judge for the Y Municipal Court. The judge is paid separately for these two positions.
In the role of county commissioner, the attorney/county commissioner will review and participate annually in the approval of the budget of the X County District Court.
CJC Canon 1 provides that judicial officers shall uphold the integrity of the judiciary. Canon 2(A) provides in part that judicial officers should act at all times in a manner that promotes the public confidence in the judiciary. Canon 2(B) provides in part that judicial officers should not allow relationships to influence their judicial conduct or judgment. Finally, Canon 3(D)(1) provides that judges should disqualify themselves in a proceeding in which their impartiality might reasonably be questioned.
A part-time municipal court judge may not preside over a matter in which counsel is a part-time county commissioner when counsel, in the capacity of county commissioner, sets the budget for the district court on which the part-time judge also serves. The fact that the county commissioner is a member of the board which sets the budget for the other court on which the part-time judicial officer serves, creates an appearance of partiality. The part-time municipal court judge may appoint a pro tem judge to preside over the matters in which the attorney/county commissioner acts as counsel because the appointment of the pro tem judge maintains the appearance of impartiality with respect to the attorney/county commissioner. It is not necessary that the pro tem judge be an elected judge pro tem.
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