State of Washington
Ethics Advisory CommitteeOpinion 97-11
If a judicial officer is aware that a law firm performed pro bono legal services for the incorporation of a statewide court historical foundation, does the judicial officer have a duty to disclose this in any proceeding in which the law firm appears? Are there any limitations which would be imposed on a judicial officer ?
The state Supreme Court has been looking at establishing a statewide court historical foundation. The foundation would preserve items that are unique to the state’s judiciary and also be used to educate the public about what the courts do.
The first step is to have the foundation incorporated and apply for the IRS determination letter. A law firm has volunteered to do the necessary legal work. The law firm is concerned, however, that its volunteer efforts not affect its ability to practice before any of the courts in the state.
None of the active members of the Supreme Court will serve on the foundation’s board, but retired members of the Court may be asked to serve.
CJC Canon 2(A) provides judges should act at all times in a manner that promotes public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary. Canon 2(B) provides in part that judges should not allow relationships to influence their judicial conduct or judgment. Finally, Canon 3(D)(1) provides judges should disqualify themselves in a proceeding in which their impartiality might reasonably be questioned.
The law firm in this situation is not acting as the attorney for any judge in the state. The law firm will only be doing the pro bono legal work necessary for the incorporation of the state court historical foundation. Therefore, disclosure and/or an offer to disqualify are not necessary because there was never a lawyer/client relationship between the law firm and any member of the judiciary.
If judicial officers were active in forming the court historical foundation and worked with the law firm on the foundation’s incorporation the judicial officers should disclose that relationship with the law firm.
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