State of Washington
Ethics Advisory CommitteeOpinion 95-01
Must a judicial officer be recused from hearing cases of which the judicial officer has no ex parte knowledge, when one party is represented by an attorney from a federally funded legal services program when:
1) the judicial officer worked in the same office and supervised some of the legal services attorneys more than 12 months ago and prior to becoming a judicial officer;
2) the judicial officer contracted to represent certain clients referred by the legal services program prior to becoming a judicial officer and less than 12 months ago; and
3) the judicial officer's spouse continues to work for the legal services program but in another office and the spouse has no involvement with the cases brought before the judicial officer.
If recusal is not necessary, must the judicial officer still disclose the previous and spousal relationships with the legal services program to the parties' attorneys prior to hearing cases?
Canon 3(C) provides that judicial officers should disqualify themselves in proceedings in which their impartiality might reasonably be questioned.
If the judicial officer was in the office making policy and supervisory decisions concerning the specific case the judicial officer should recuse him or her self.
If the judicial officer has no knowledge of the case, the fact of the judicial officer's prior employment need not be disclosed.
In those cases when there may be an appearance of fairness issue raised because the judicial officer was working in the legal service office at the time the case was pending, but the judicial officer has no knowledge of the case, disclosure is the remedy.
There is no need to disclose the spouse's employment relationship unless independent circumstances justify the disclosure and/or recusal.
See Opinions 90-14, 91-1, 91-5, 91-6, 91-7, 89-2 and 91-18.
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