State of Washington
Ethics Advisory CommitteeOpinion 92-12
Are any judicial conduct problems created for a judicial officer when one of the court employees is married to a law enforcement officer who files cases or appears regularly in the same court where the court employee works?
There is a potential for an appearance of unfairness or partiality when a court employee is a spouse of a law enforcement officer who files cases or testifies regularly in that same court. To the extent a judge does little or nothing to mitigate that potential, the judge may violate CJC Canon 1 and 2, and may be required to take action under CJC Canon 3(C)(1). While the judge's power to mitigate may be limited the judge should take all reasonable steps to eliminate or reduce the perception that a judge's impartiality is compromised by the special relationship between the court employee and the law enforcement officer. The factors to consider when taking steps to mitigate are, among others, the following:
(a) the amount of the judge's control over personnel administration,
(b) legal or policy restrictions on discriminatory hiring and firing practices,
(c) whether the employee could be transferred to a civil section of the court, or assigned duties where contact with the law enforcement spouse is minimal,
(d) whether cases filed by the law enforcement spouse can be conveniently transferred to another court for resolution,
(e) the size of the court and/or staff, and the number of such relationships,
(f) whether employee education and training could be utilized to heighten employee awareness concerning the potential for the appearance of unfairness or partiality.
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