State of Washington
Ethics Advisory CommitteeOpinion 91-17
May a part-time judicial officer contract with a government entity to provide nonjudicial legal services or continue to be a member of a firm which contracts with a governmental entity to provide nonjudicial legal services?
Since 1984 the Ethics Advisory Committee has issued fourteen opinions addressing activities of part-time judicial officers; of these, six opinions have discussed the propriety of a part-time judicial officer accepting employment to provide legal services for a governmental entity. Those opinions are 86-14, 89-6, 89-14, 89-15, 90-2 and 90-3. The Committee is frequently asked to answer questions on the propriety of acceptance of legal work for a governmental entity with slight variations in the facts. Accordingly, the Committee determined it would be appropriate to issue a comprehensive opinion on part-time judicial officers who wish to perform legal work for courts and other governmental entities.
The Preamble to the Code of Judicial Conduct states that part-time judges are not required to comply with CJC Canon 5(C)(2), (D), (E), (F), and (G) and Canon 6(C) which relate to financial matters, but they are required to comply with the other provisions of the Code of Judicial Conduct. CJC Canon 1 requires judges to observe high standards of conduct to preserve the integrity and independence of the judiciary. CJC Canon 2(A) directs that judges should conduct themselves at all times in a manner that promotes public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary. CJC Canon 2(B) provides that judges should not lend the prestige of their office to advance the private interests of others nor should they convey or permit others to convey the impression that they are in a special position to influence them. Under CJC Canon 3 judicial duties are given precedence over all other activities. Finally, CJC Canon 5(C)(1) provides that judges should refrain from financial or business dealings that tend to reflect adversely on their impartiality, interfere with the proper performance of their judicial duties or exploit their judicial position.
Because contracting with a governmental entity on a short or long term basis may create an appearance of a conflict of interest, the Code provisions cited in the preceding paragraph prohibits a part-time judicial officer from contracting with any governmental entity to provide nonjudicial legal services before the same level of court (limited jurisdiction or superior court) in the same city or county.* The same unfavorable appearance is created when a judicial officer is a member of a firm which contracts with a governmental entity to provide nonjudicial legal services before the same level of court (limited jurisdiction or superior court) in the same city or county.*
*This should not be interpreted as prohibiting a part-time judicial officer from contracting with another city within the same county where the part-time judicial officer sits. For example, a part-time judicial officer for one city within a county would be able to perform public defender services for another city within the same county.
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