State of Washington
Ethics Advisory CommitteeOpinion 97-05
When a court employee is acting as a volunteer domestic violence counselor outside of court hours, what are the responsibilities of the supervising judicial officer when that judicial officer is aware of those outside activities?
One of the court clerks wishes to be trained and certified as a domestic violence counselor. This clerk’s duties include filing and entering all new criminal citations and complaints, filing and scheduling all civil infractions and managing the small claims caseload. If certified, the clerk would be counseling and teaching classes for domestic violence perpetrators and defendants under the supervision of a certified mental health professional with special training in this field. The work would be as a volunteer and occur outside court work hours.
The clerk is Hispanic and bilingual. The court’s jurisdiction has a large bilingual, Hispanic population and a significant number are charged with crimes related to domestic violence. There is a documented and perceived need for this counseling service to this population group by all members of the criminal justice system and domestic violence support and advocacy groups.
It is unlikely that another person with this clerk’s cultural background and knowledge, language abilities, and domestic violence training will be found or available within the jurisdiction. Total population of the jurisdiction is approximately 35,000.
The domestic violence training and experience as well as the other qualities could make a valuable addition to the probation office.
CJC Canon 2(A) provides that judges shall at all times act in a manner that promotes public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary. Canon 3(B)(2) provides in part that judges require their staff to observe the standards of fidelity and diligence that apply to judges.
A judge may permit a court employee to work as a volunteer domestic violence counselor outside of court work hours without creating an appearance of unfairness or partiality for the judicial officer. The judicial officer should advise the court employee that even though it is appropriate to engage in this activity, the court employee must not give the impression that the volunteer activity is in any way related to employment with the court.
The court employee should also be advised that the judicial officer should be informed if any of the participants in the court employee’s domestic violence training or counseling sessions are involved in pending cases before the court. The judicial officer should then determine if there is a need to make disclosures or to take appropriate steps to isolate the clerk’s activities in the case to avoid an appearance of unfairness or partiality.
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