State of Washington
Ethics Advisory CommitteeOpinion 97-09
Is a judicial officer required to recuse in a case if the judicial officer is advised the judicial officer’s spouse has a listing for a house in a subdivision with covenants which are the subject of the lawsuit; the spouse at one time owned a house in the subdivision and served on its board and the judicial officer and spouse rented a house in the subject subdivision for a short time several years ago?
The judicial officer heard a summary judgment motion which was taken under advisement. Approximately two months after hearing the motion, but before the judge rendered a decision, counsel wrote to the judge advising that the judge’s spouse is the listing broker on a house located in the same subdivision as the property which is the subject of the lawsuit pending before the judge. The judge responded by advising both parties that the judge was not recusing from the case because the judge’s spouse did not have an economic interest in the subject matter in controversy.
After the judge issued a letter opinion, the judge received a letter from counsel advising that the judge’s spouse owned property in the subdivision over 20 years ago (and many years before the judge was married to the spouse) and the spouse advised the judicial officer that at the time of that ownership the spouse served on the subdivision’s homeowner’s board. Several years ago, the judicial officer and the spouse rented a house in the subdivision for a short period of time.
CJC Canon 2(A) requires that judges conduct themselves in a manner that promotes public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary. Canon 2(B) states that judges should not allow their family relationships to influence their judicial conduct or judgment, should not lend the prestige of their office to advance the private interests of others, and should not convey or permit others to convey the impression they are in a special position to influence them.
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