Opinion 237

Rule 1.3 and Rule 2.11(A) of the Code of Judicial Conduct do not require per se disqualification when a judge is the godparent or godchild of an attorney who appears before the court.  The godparent-godchild relationship is not within the degree of relationship that would require disqualification by the Code of Judicial Conduct.  Thus, the judge need not sua sponte disqualify under the Canons.

Nevertheless, a godparent-godchild relationship between a judge and the child of an attorney [or other person of interest as described in Rule 2.11(A)(2)] who appears before a judge could make disqualfication appropriate.  The depth of every godparent-godchild relationship differs, with some maintaining only historical significance after the obligation was perfunctorily assumed, and others are held as sacred by the godparent, developing into a close bond or familial tie.  Cf. Supreme Court of Colorado Judicial Ethics Advisory Board, Opinion 2007-04.  In the scenario posed here, the Commission notes that the judge and the attorney are co-godparents of each other’s children and, as such, suggests the type of bond and closeness that could be of such a nature to require disqualification.

In every case, the nature of the godparent-godchild relationship must be examined by the judge to determine whether the relationship is of such a nature that it might reasonably raise questions about the judge’s impartiality.  In any event, disclosure is always required when a godparent-godchild relationship exists; whether the judge is the godparent or the godchild of an interested party who is before the court as an attorney, material witness or party.  Disclosure of the relationship promotes confidence in the impartiality of the judiciary and provides notice to all interested persons and parties of any basis on which disqualfication may be sought.

Because the godparent-godchild relationship is a special one, we conclude that the judge is required first to consider whether the depth and nature of the relationship is such that the judge should voluntarily disqualify.  If the judge does not disqualify, we conclude that where the godparent-godchild relationship exists among the parties, attorneys, or material witnesses before the court, the nature of the godparent-godchild relationship requires disclosure in all cases and, upon request by any party and/or attorney, disqualification is required by the Canons.  However, as in all matters governing disqualification, the parties may waive the disqualification and proceed in accordance with Rule 2.11(C), Remittal of Disqualification.

[Pertinent Code of Judcial Conduct provisions: Canon 1, Rule 2.11(A), Rule 2.11(A)(2), Rule 2.11(C)]
as in all matters governing disqualification

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