Property issues

Discipline cases have held that it undermines public confidence in the judiciary for a judge to purchase property that is involved in litigation pending before the judge.

  • A judge signed an order authorizing the sale of a conservatee’s home, entered into an agreement to purchase the property, and approved an accounting that included the sale of the property to himself.  Inquiry Concerning Sullivan, Decision and order (California Commission on Judicial Performance May 17, 2002) (public censure for this and other misconduct).
  • A judge purchased real property from an estate being settled in his court and subsequently approved the executor’s final accounting.  Patterson v. Council on Probate Judicial Conduct, 577 A.2d 701 (Connecticut 1990) (public reprimand).
  • A judge made an offer to buy a condominium from an estate only 18 days after he signed the orders admitting the will to probate and purchased a home that was the subject of a foreclosure action pending before him.  In the Matter of Handy, 867 P.2d 341 (Kansas 1994) (public censure for this and other misconduct).
  • A judge tried to buy property that was one of the assets at issue in litigation pending before him involving the distribution of corporate assets.  In re Yaccarino, 502 A.2d 3 (New Jersey 1985) (removal for this and other misconduct).
  • A magistrate purchased items seized from tenants to satisfy rental debts at a distraint sale conducted by his office.  In the Matter of Thompson, 553 S.E.2d 449 (South Carolina 2001) (public reprimand for this and other misconduct).

Advisory committees have also addressed the issue.

  • A judge should not purchase property subject to a foreclosure proceeding over which the judge is currently presiding, but, after the foreclosure proceeding is concluded, may purchase the property from the foreclosure purchaser on the terms that are available to the general public unless the judge acquired information during the proceeding that gives them an advantage or they will be treated preferentially because of their previous involvement.  Colorado Advisory Opinion 2012-4.
  • A judge may be a shareholder of a corporation organized to purchase real estate at foreclosure sales unless the judge presides over mortgage foreclosure actions and the corporation purchases foreclosure properties within the judge’s jurisdiction or the judge’s involvement would result in frequent transactions with individuals likely to appear before the judge.  Illinois Advisory Opinion 2006-4.
  • A judge may not purchase assets from the estate of a minor while proceedings are pending before their court even if the matter has been reassigned to another judge and the attorney for the owners assures the judge that any conflict will be waived.  Kansas Advisory Opinion JE-81 (1998).
  • A judge should not buy assets from an estate that is pending in their court at either a private sale or public auction, directly or through an agent.  Kansas Advisory Opinion JE-124 (2004).
  • A judge may bid at public auction to buy a tract of land being sold at sheriff’s sale as the result of a foreclosure action if the judge had nothing to do with the foreclosure action, has no jurisdiction over the action, and did not know of the action until reading the published notice of sheriff’s sale.  Kansas Advisory Opinion JE-135 (2005).
  • A judge may purchase bank-owned property that was foreclosed in a closed case that was uncontested even though the judge signed the order confirming the sale.  Kansas Advisory Opinion 184 (2015).
  • A judge and their spouse may purchase foreclosed property at a scheduled judicial sale when the judge had no involvement in the case, learned of the sale from the newspaper, and read the court file by checking it out at the clerk’s office in the same manner as any person could, the judge would not attend or personally participate in the bidding, and the judge does not know the special master responsible for conducting the sale.  New Mexico Advisory Opinion 2011-3.
  • If a surrogate entered into a contract to purchase real property in good faith but later learned the property was part of a decedent’s estate, the surrogate must disqualify themself from any further involvement in the probate proceeding but is not required to repudiate the contract.  New York Advisory Opinion 2014-187.
  • A judge may purchase a home at a foreclosure sale in the judge’s court if they have had no judicial involvement in the sale but must not lend, or appear to lend, the prestige of the judicial office to influence the sale and should not alert their co-judge or court personnel that they are interested in purchasing a home at the sale, other than in the same time, place, and manner as other members of the public or voluntarily disclose their judicial status during the sale unless they must do so pursuant to law or administrative rule.  New York Advisory Opinion 2009-134.

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