State of Washington
Ethics Advisory CommitteeOpinion 88-12
Is it proper for a judge to hear cases of an attorney who is a member of a non-profit public defender agency, when the judge's spouse is the past president, and current board member of the public defender agency?
Is it proper for the judge to rule on the issue of whether counsel from the public defender agency should be appointed to a particular case?
Is it proper for a judge to hear cases of attorneys who are in the same firm as the judge's spouse? Does the size of the firm make a difference? Does it make a difference whether the spouse is an associate or a partner?
The fact that a judge's spouse is the past president and a current board member of a public defender agency would not automatically make it improper for the judge to hear cases of an attorney who is a member of the public defender agency nor would that prevent the judge from considering whether counsel from the public defender agency should be appointed to a particular case.
The comment to CJC Canon 3(C)(1)(d)(ii) states the "fact that a lawyer in a proceeding is affiliated with a law firm with which a lawyer-relative of the judge is affiliated does not of itself disqualify the judge." However, there may be some situations where the judge's impartiality might reasonably be questioned. In those cases the judge should disclose the affiliation with the law firm of the lawyer-spouse to the parties and their attorneys and should seriously consider a request for recusal if any party chooses to make such a request.
The size of the firm or the position of the lawyer-spouse as associate or partner are not in themselves controlling but may be factors to be considered by the judge in determining whether the judge's impartiality might reasonably be questioned.
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