A sampling of recent judicial ethics advisory opinions

  • A judge’s friendship with an attorney or party to a proceeding does not per se require disqualification. Even if a judge subjectively believes that they are not biased, the judge should examine on a case-by-case basis the closeness of their relationship with an attorney, the totality of the circumstances in the relationship, its bearing on the case, and whether those circumstances might lead a reasonable person to believe that the judge and the attorney share a close and unusual relationship that makes recusal necessary. Even if the judge concludes recusal is not necessary, the judge should disclose the relationship to the parties. Colorado Opinion 2021-2.
  • A judge may allow their court staff to solicit individual lawyers to represent defendants in consumer debt cases pro bono but must avoid the appearance that attorneys are being coerced to provide such representation. New York Opinion 2021-149.
  • If a judge is alerted by a third party to Facebook posts allegedly by a defendant the judge sentenced that make negative comments about the judge, the victim, and a relative of the victim who spoke at the sentencing hearing, the judge may not review or consider the posts or discuss the issue with the commissioner of the division of corrections and rehabilitation but should immediately refer the message from the third party to the prosecutor and the defense attorney to investigate its truthfulness and take any action that they deem appropriate. West Virginia Opinion 2021-2.
  • With many conditions, a judge may provide feedback on courtroom performance to attorneys or their supervisors but must not provide feedback immediately after a hearing or trial while the case may be or is being appealed. California Formal Opinion 2021-18.
  • Justices of the peace may not negotiate the disposition of misdemeanor charges directly with defendants on the record in open court without the participation of but in the presence of the district attorney’s office. Nevada Opinion JE2021-1.
  • A judge may write to members of the county legislature to “emphasize the urgency” of repairs to the courthouse, to encourage legislators to proceed promptly, and to suggest that the county use COVID-19 aid money received from the federal American Rescue Plan for the repairs. The judge may also encourage other judges in the county to express support for the repairs. New York Opinion 2021-121.
  • A judge may attend a local “survivors group” to better understand the difficulties encountered by victims of domestic violence as long as none of the members of the group is a victim or witness in a matter currently pending before the judge. New York Opinion 2021-152.
  • With conditions, a judge may teach a course at a public or private college or university, give a motivational speech, or teach a continuing education course. A judge’s teaching schedule should not create conflicts with the judge’s daily docket or administrative schedule, and a judge must avoid the appearance that they are devoting significant time to teaching or speaking. A judge should consider the subject and the audience before accepting an offer to teach or speak. Ohio Opinion 2021-11.
  • A judge may provide a letter of recommendation on official court letterhead based on the judge’s personal knowledge of the individual for whom the recommendation is written. Ohio Opinion 2021-12.
  • A judge may write a reference letter based on their personal knowledge if it is the type of letter that would be written in the ordinary course of business or a judge’s personal relationship. Any letter a judge may write may be written on official stationery if the judge indicates that the reference is personal and if it is not likely that the use of the letterhead would reasonably be perceived as an attempt to exert pressure by reason of the judicial office. Pennsylvania Formal Opinion 2021-1.
  • A judge may not participate as a judge in a charitable organization’s jail-and-bail fund-raiser in which the organization’s supporters create phony charges and collect donations to secure their bail. West Virginia Opinion 2021-16.
  • A new judge may continue volunteering as a sideline broadcaster of high school football games for a radio station. West Virginia Opinion 2021-17.
  • A judge may accept a referral fee earned prior to assuming the bench but must disqualify themself from all matters involving the law firm or lawyer to which the case was referred until final payment, with very limited exceptions. Michigan Opinion JI-150 (2021).
  • A judge may hold shares in a family-held limited liability company that owns real estate and may participate in management of the company’s real estate investment, but must not manage, operate, or otherwise actively participate in a family-held bar that operates on the company’s real estate. New York Opinion 2021-154.
  • A judge may apply for an appointment as a federal administrative law judge and go through background checks and salary negotiations prior to accepting an offer. The judge may continue to serve in the state judiciary after they have been appointed as an ALJ until the day before they start their new job. New York Opinion 2021-156.

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