State of Washington
Ethics Advisory Committee
Is it proper for a judge to sit when the spouse of a judge of the same judicial district appears in his or her attorney capacity in front of that judge?
It is the opinion of the Committee that the mere fact that a fellow judge’s spouse appears in front of a judge does not require disqualification of the judge.
CJC Canon 2 requires that a judge should avoid impropriety and the appearance of impropriety in all of the judge’s activities. It specifically requires that a judge should not allow social or other relationships to influence the judge’s judicial conduct or judgment. In addition, CJC Canon 3C(1)(d) requires that a judge should disqualify himself or herself where the judge’s impartiality might reasonably be questioned. CJC Canon 3 speaks specifically to the problem of a judge’s spouse appearing in front of the judge in any capacity, and requires disqualification in such circumstances. It does not specifically address proceedings before other judges of the same judicial district where a fellow judge’s spouse appears. The Committee’s opinion is that under some circumstances the relationship between fellow judges on the bench might give rise to a circumstance “in which the judge’s impartiality might reasonably be questioned.” CJC Canon 3C(1).
It is the Committee’s opinion that a proper course of action for a judge faced with an appearance of counsel related by marriage to a fellow judge in the same judicial district would be to notify all the parties to the proceeding of that relationship and should seriously consider a request for recusal if any party chooses to make such a request. The Committee does not believe that the size of the judiciary in a particular district or county and/or the availability of alternate judges to sit should affect the ethical requirements stated.
NOTE: Effective June 23, 1995, the Supreme Court amended the Code of Judicial Conduct. In addition to reviewing the ethics advisory opinions, the following should be noted:
Amended Opinion 84-3—CJC Canon 3(C)(1)(d) became 3(D)(1)(d). CJC Canon 3(C)(1) became 3(D)(1).
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: