State of Washington
Ethics Advisory CommitteeOpinion 99-01
May a judicial officer permit a court employee to run for a nonpartisan elected office? What restrictions should the judicial officer place on the court employee during the course of the election, and if successful, while the court employee serves in that capacity?
A law clerk is considering running for city council which is a local, nonpartisan elected office. Almost all of the meetings of the city council are in the evening, and the judge does not anticipate this position would detract in any way from the clerk’s duties at the court. On occasions when it might be necessary of the clerk to be on city business during office hours, the clerk would take vacation time. Although there may be occasions in which a matter involving the city reaches the court, this does not happen routinely. If it does, the clerk will be kept from any involvement in the case.
CJC Canon 3(B)(2) provides that judges should require their staff and court officials subject to their direction and control to observe the standards or fidelity and diligence that apply to them. This provision is housed under the section addressing administrative responsibilities of judges and relates to fidelity and diligence in carrying out work related responsibilities.
The Code of Judicial Conduct does not prohibit court staff from seeking election to a nonpartisan position but the law clerk may not use the prestige of the judicial office to benefit the campaign. The judicial officer may not endorse the clerk’s candidacy (CJC Canon 7A(1)(b)). The clerk may not engage in any activities related to the campaign, and if successful, to the performance of the city council position responsibilities, while at work and may not use state resources at any time in this undertaking. If these activities interfere with the performance of the clerk’s work or participation on specific cases, the judicial officer may have to either terminate the clerk’s employment or ask the clerk to resign from the council position. In some cases the clerk’s council position may be relevant to disqualification or disclosure.
See also Opinion 96-13.
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