State of Washington
Ethics Advisory CommitteeOpinion 91-18
The Committee has been asked to issue a comprehensive opinion on the potential conflicts of interest that arise when one spouse is an attorney and the other is a judicial officer.
Since 1984, the Ethics Advisory Committee has issued 11 opinions addressing activities of judicial spouses and one opinion in which the child of the judicial officer was an attorney. These opinions, based upon CJC Canon 2 and Canon 3(C), address specific fact situations they are: Opinions 84-1, 84-3, 86-8, 86-13, 87-9, 88-8, 88-12, 88-15, 89-2, 89-5, 89-12 and 91-6.
For purposes of CJC Canon 3(C)(3), the degree of relationship is calculated according to the civil law system. According to the civil law system, the third degree of relationship test would disqualify the judge if the judge's or the judge's spouse's parent, grandparent, aunt, uncle, sibling, niece, nephew, children and grandchildren or the spouse of those relatives is a party or lawyer in the proceeding, but would not disqualify the judge if a cousin were a party or lawyer in the proceeding.
The judicial officer may have a duty under some other provisions of the Code of Judicial Conduct to disclose the judicial officer's spouse's or child's attorney status and may offer to withdraw from the proceeding. Generally, such a determination should begin with an examination of CJC Canon 2. CJC Canon 2 requires that a judicial officer avoid impropriety and the appearance of impropriety in all of the judicial officer's activities. CJC Canon 2(B) specifically requires that a judicial officer not allow family or other relationships to influence the judicial officer's conduct or judgment. If a judicial officer feels that disclosure is required, it should be done as soon as practical and, if possible, before the judicial officer makes any discretionary rulings. In addition, CJC Canon 3(C)(1)(d) requires that a judicial officer disqualify himself or herself in those cases where the judicial officer's impartiality might reasonably be questioned. Once a judicial officer has withdrawn the judicial officer has fulfilled the requirements of the Code.
This requirement of disclosure, withdrawal or consideration of an offer to withdraw is personal to the judicial officer with the affected attorney/spouse or attorney/child and does not run to other members of the court or panel of the court. There is no requirement that the court reassign the case.
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