State of Washington
Ethics Advisory CommitteeOpinion 99-12
Are there any ethical problems when a judicial officer is married to a deputy court administrator?
The court has several judges, a court commissioner and a substantial number of full-time employees of the court. The court staff is supervised by the court administrator. The deputy court administrator reports to the court administrator who in turn is supervised by the city manager. The deputy court administrator is a long time court employee and was serving as the deputy court administrator before the marriage to the judicial officer. In addition, the judiciary, through the presiding judge, raises concerns or problems the judges might be having with court staff to the court administrator and/or the city manager. The court administrator and/or the city manager make the final decisions regarding the hiring, supervising, disciplining, evaluating, and firing of an employee.
The judges have developed a protocol regarding the employment or supervision of immediate family members. The presiding judge will be the liaison between the judiciary and court administration through the court administrator. The court administrator has sole discretion regarding all employment decisions regarding court personnel, with the exception of the court commissioner. No judge shall act as presiding judge if a family relationship, including a marital relationship, exists between the judge and any court staff.
CJC Canon 2(B) provides in part that judges may not allow family or other relationships to influence their judicial conduct or judgment nor should judges convey or permit others to convey the impression they are in a special position to influence them. CJC Canon 3 provides in part that a judge’s judicial duties should take precedence over all other activities. Judges should diligently discharge their administrative responsibilities and facilitate the performance of the administrative responsibilities of other judges and court officials. Given the facts as presented in the request for an opinion, these provisions have been followed by the development of the protocol regarding employment and supervision of immediate family members and as long as that protocol is followed there are no ethical problems.
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