State of Washington
Ethics Advisory CommitteeOpinion 99-09
(1) May a judge, consistent with imperatives of the Code of Judicial Conduct, execute a contract for employment to serve as a municipal court judge which contains any of the following provisions:
(a) Employees of this court will report to the court administrator who will operate under the general direction of the city manager, with guidance from the judge;
(b) The judge will undergo regular performance reviews by the city manager;
(c) The judge will communicate with police and other city agencies about court cases.
(2) If a judge may enter into such an employment contract, are there limitations imposed on the judge by the Code of Judicial Conduct?
(3) Are there restrictions imposed on the judge beyond those embodied in the Code of Judicial Conduct?
The central question raised by the request is whether a judicial officer may enter into an employment contract with a city to be a municipal court judge if: (a) court employees will report to the court administrator who will report to the city manager; (b) the judge will undergo performance reviews by the city manager; and (c) the judge will communicate with police and other city agencies about court cases.
A judicial officer may contract with a municipality to serve as a municipal court judge. However, the contract may not contain provisions which would create an impropriety or the appearance of impropriety concerning the judge’s activities. Some examples of inappropriate contact provisions are having: (1) the court administrator and court employees report to the court administrator and not to the judge; (2) the performance reviews conducted by the city manager, a member of the municipal executive branch; and (3) the judicial officer discuss court cases with members of law enforcement and other municipal court agencies. The employment contract should acknowledge the court is a part of an independent branch of city government and that the judicial officer and court employees are bound to act in accordance with the provisions of the Code of Judicial Conduct.
Canon 3(B)(1) and (2) require that judges diligently discharge their administrative responsibilities, facilitate the performance of the administrative responsibilities of court officials, and require their staff and court officials subject to their direction and control to observe the standards of fidelity and diligence that apply to them. In addition, Canon 3(A)(2) requires judges to maintain order and decorum in proceedings before them. The contract provision requiring employees to report to the court administrator who will operate under the general direction of the city manager with guidance from the judge would interfere with the judge’s duties to comply with the foregoing provisions. This part of the contract also intrudes on the independence of the judiciary.
CJC Canon 2(A) provides in part that 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. It also provides that judges may not permit others to convey the impression that they are in a special position to influence them. That fact that a judicial officer will undergo performance reviews by the city manager may either cause the judicial officer to violate these provisions or create the reasonable appearance that there is such a violation. It also intrudes on the independence of the judiciary.
The employment contract calls for the judge to communicate with police and other city agencies about court cases. This is prohibited by CJC Canon 3(A)(4) which provides in part that a judge may neither initiate nor consider ex parte or other communications concerning a pending or impending matter.
The final question addresses other restrictions which may be imposed on the municipal court judge beyond those embodied in the Code of Judicial Conduct. GR 10 provides in part that the Ethics Advisory Committee is designated as the body to give advice with respect to the application of the Code of Judicial Conduct to officials of the judicial branch as defined in Article IV of the Washington Constitution. Therefore, the last question is beyond the scope of the committee’s charge.
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