State of Washington
Ethics Advisory CommitteeOpinion 96-17
Does a judicial officer have an ethical duty to withdraw from a criminal matter if the defendant later names the judicial officer as party in a civil lawsuit? Is the judicial officer barred from presiding in a traffic infraction proceeding issued out of the same factual situation as the criminal case?
A criminal defendant has to this point appeared before the court’s full-time commissioner, and two different pro-tem judges on various preliminary matters, including an arraignment, warrant clearing motion and/or a pre-trial hearing.
All of the judicial officers were promptly served by the criminal defendant, turned civil lawsuit plaintiff, and became defendants themselves in a Superior Court civil lawsuit seeking damages for various claims. In the judicial officer’s view, these civil claims have no merit and may create a condition whereby the judicial officers are potentially “intimidated and/or coerced” from performing their duties.
CJC Canon 2(B) provides in part that judges should not allow relationships to influence their judicial conduct or judgment. Canon 3(A) (5) and #(6) provide that judges shall perform judicial duties without bias or prejudice and should dispose promptly of the court’s business. Canon 3(D) (1)(a) provides that judges should disqualify themselves in a proceeding in which their impartiality might reasonably be questioned, including instances in which the judge has a personal bias or prejudice concerning a party.
A judge should not be disqualified from presiding over a criminal or infraction case because the defendant has named the judge as a party in a civil lawsuit. It is the duty of a judge to perform the office of judge with independence from influences other than the proper administration of justice and with integrity, diligence and impartiality. A party’s actions towards a judge do not cause the judge to be disqualified.
If the judge develops a bias or prejudice against the defendant or if another factor causes his or her impartiality to reasonably be questioned, the judge should disqualify him or her self. To automatically necessitate disqualification would result in judge shopping by any party who feels that a judge will render a decision that is not to the liking of the party.
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