A sampling of recent judicial ethics advisory opinions

  • Except in specified circumstances, a judge may not engage in an ex parte communication with a professional or volunteer who works with the court, such as a district attorney investigator, probation officer, probate investigator, social worker, CASA volunteer, or CASA staff, and should require such individuals to communicate through a written report shared with all parties.  A judge should not receive an oral up-date from an investigator from the district attorney’s office appointed by the court to search for a child who has been abducted by a parent in a contested custody case but may receive a written up-date.  A judge should not permit a deputy probation officer to explain portions of a report in chambers and should ask that any explanations take place with all the parties or their attorneys present or in a supplemental written report.  When police officers come to a judge’s house with an affidavit in support of a search warrant, the best practice is for the judge to read the affidavit alone so that the officers cannot add to the facts or explain them, and the judge should decline any offer of additional information.  A judge may discuss with the director of the local CASA program administrative issues such as the quality of CASA reports and the role of the advocates in court but must be careful not to discuss individual cases.  California Judges Association Opinion 77 (2019).
  • A judge may not display a rainbow flag or rainbow heart sticker on the bench or in the courtroom to communicate to individuals identifying as lesbian, gay, transgender, or queer that they are in a safe, affirming, and inclusive space.  New York Opinion 2019-50.
  • A judge who oversaw legislation that made West Virginia a right-to-work state while serving as a member of the House of Delegates must recuse himself from any challenge the right-to-work laws.  West Virginia Opinion 2019-9.
  • Court employees who are licensed members of the bar may in general volunteer their services to a pro bono publico service program even in a representative capacity, outside of regular hours of employment, but, before deciding whether to allow a court employee to provide pro bono services, a judicial officer should consider whether the court has a policy related to outside employment or volunteer work, the nature of the employee’s role with the court, the nature of the participation, whether the participation will lead to frequent disqualification of the judicial officer, and whether the participation may convey the impression that the employee is in a position to influence the judge or is expressing the judge’s views on pending or impending cases.  Washington Opinion 2019-3.
  • A judge may not permit an incoming law clerk to accept a salary advance from the law firm for which the law clerk will be working after the clerkship.  Maryland Opinion Request 2019-14.
  • A judge may serve on a governmental task force to address the impacts of closing a prison facility if its members represent a broad spectrum of interests and it will focus on planning for an orderly transition rather than fielding complaints.  New York Opinion 2018-168.
  • A judge may write a book about family law courts and the mental health issues sometimes associated with them, specifically, the “warning signs” that judges and litigants should be concerned about, and may promote the book as long as the judge does not use the prestige of office to promote the book and the judge, his judicial assistant, and members of his family do not sell the book to any member of the Bar.  Florida Opinion 2019-18.
  • With conditions, a judge who re-sentenced a person for a murder committed while the person was a juvenile may, after the person’s probation has ended, participate in a brief e-mail interview that will be published in the person’s memoir.  Maryland Opinion Request 2019-13.
  • A judge may teach or lecture part-time at a private law school and accept reasonable compensation.  New York Opinion 2018-168.
  • A judge may serve in leadership positions in bar associations, including as an officer, director, committee chair, or non-legal advisor to a local or national bar association.  New York Opinion 2018-168.
  • A judge may not serve as an officer of, on the board of directors of, or in any other leadership position in the Anti-Defamation League or the regional chapter of the Anti-Defamation League Pacific Northwest.  A judge may participate in the ADL PNW No Place for Hate education campaign if the program’s content does not give the impression that the judge will not apply the law or has a bias or predisposition toward any question that he might be called upon to decide, but should not associate himself with the organization’s positions on public controversies, should disqualify himself from any litigation in which the ADL or ADL PNW is a party, is representing a party, or has participated as amici, and should disclose his affiliation with the ADL and consider recusing if an issue comes before him that involves a matter on which ADL has taken a public position by litigation, lobbying, or direct advocacy.  Washington Opinion 2019-1.
  • A judicial officer may donate an item to a charitable auction as long as her name or participation is not associated with the donated item, but may not donate a drinks and hor d’ouerves event in the new home she shares with her spouse.  Her spouse may donate to the auction unless members of the legal community are aware that the donated gift or service features their shared residence or includes personal interaction with the judicial officer.  Washington Opinion 2019-2.
  • A close friend of a judge should not establish a charitable fund in the judge’s name to benefit animal rescue organizations, but guests at the judge’s birthday party may make a one-time donation to an organization in her honor with certain conditions.  West Virginia Opinion 2019-10.
  • A judge may receive payments from her former law firm pursuant to an agreement that pre-dated her appointment but must disclose the payments in any case involving the firm as long as the payments continue.  West Virginia Opinion 2019-1.
  • A magistrate judge should not open a pawn shop.  West Virginia Opinion 2019-8.
  • A judge’s spouse may act as a poll worker for a municipal election.  West Virginia Opinion 2019-5.
  • A judicial candidate may not use on his campaign materials a stock photograph of strangers with a banner that reads “Re-Elect Judge [Name] for Us!”  New York Opinion 2019-53.

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