Opinion 187

A Juvenile Court Judge requests an opinion on the propriety of a part-time Associate Judge hearing and deciding cases which are prosecuted on behalf of the County Department Of Family And Children Services by an associate in the law firm of the part-time Associate Judge.

This issue is controlled by Rule 2.11(A) of the Code of Judicial Conduct. This Canon provides that “Judges should disqualify themselves in proceedings in which their impartiality might reasonably be questioned, including but not limited to . . . ,” certain enumerated instances, none of which are specifically applicable to the instant factual situation. Similar issues respecting relatives of the judge, or law firms of which they were members, representing parties are addressed in Opinion Nos. 20, 128 and 140. In each instance, the Commission concluded that, although there was no automatic disqualification, under the particular circumstances outlined in each of those requests, the judge’s impartiality might reasonably be questioned within the meaning of Rule 2.11(A) and concluded that the judges should recuse.

The same is true in the instant case. Although the associate’s routine representation of a party in a litigated matter is not a per se grounds for disqualification, the circumstances here presented are such that the impartiality of the judge might reasonably be questioned. In fact, it is unlikely that any member of the public much less a litigant on the opposing side of a matter, could ever be made to believe that the judge would or could be impartial under these circumstances.

Accordingly, it is the opinion of this Commission that the judge should recuse in all cases in which this law firm associate appears as counsel for any party.

[Pertinent Code of Judicial Conduct provisions: Rule 2.11(A); Compliance Provision A.2. Cross reference to other relevant opinions for review: #20, #33, #71, #72, #84, #93, #128, #140, #168.]

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