State of Washington
Ethics Advisory Committee
- May a part-time district court judge continue to act as a city attorney for a municipality located within the county where the judicial officer sits?
- May a part-time judicial officer act as a guardian ad litem in custody and/or guardianship cases in superior court?
The part-time district court judge also acts as the city attorney for a municipality located within the county. There are no municipal courts in the county; all matters are handled in the district court. As city attorney, the judicial officer does not prosecute any of the citations/complaints issued by the municipality’s police department. All prosecution is handled by the county prosecuting attorney’s office by agreement. As judge, the judicial officer would not hear any cases involving the city or a city police officer. Those matters would be heard by the court commissioner or a judge pro tem.
As the city attorney contracts, agreements and ordinances are reviewed and drafted, and advice is provided the mayor and city council. Some of these matters do involve the police department. The city attorney represents the city in court on civil issues, primarily in superior court. As city attorney the judicial officer would not appear in district court.
- May a part-time judicial officer rent office space for his or her part-time law practice in a building owned by attorneys who regularly practice in the judicial officer’s court? Does it create a conflict of interest or an appearance of partiality? Is there an alternative to breaking the lease and giving up the office at least for the appointed period?
As an attorney the judicial officer leases office space in a building co-owned by a psychologist and two local attorneys. The psychologist is the managing partner and handles the leases, maintenance, and overall operation of the building. The attorneys and their associates routinely appear in district court. Since the position is only part-time and is assured only until the election this fall, the judicial officer plans to keep the office space which is still under lease.
The current judge owns or is a partner in an office building which is leased to attorneys who practice before the judge and to the prosecutor’s office.
CJC Canon 2 provides that judges shall avoid impropriety and the appearance of impropriety in all their activities. CJC Canon 3 provides that the judicial duties of judges should take precedence over all other activities.
- A part-time district court judge may continue to act as the city attorney provided that the judicial officer does not preside over any matters involving the municipality or members of its police department. The Code of Judicial Conduct provides that a judge’s judicial duties must take precedence over all other activities; therefore, the judicial officer must be able to sit on cases which are routinely in that court.
See Opinions 90-3 and 96-7.
- A part-time judge is permitted by CJC Canon 5(F) to practice law. As an attorney the part-time judicial officer may act as a guardian ad litem in custody and/or guardianship cases in superior court.
- This question is answered by Opinion 93-8. The judicial officer may continue to be a tenant in the building owned by attorneys who practice before the judicial officer so long as the rental rate is set at fair market value.
The Supreme Court adopted a new Code of Judicial Conduct effective January 1, 2011. In addition to reviewing the ethics advisory opinions, the following should be noted: