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Opinion 240

OPINION NO. 240 (December 1, 2013)

Issue Presented: The Judicial Qualifications Commission has been asked for an Opinion whether a part-time Juvenile Court judge, who is allowed to practice law in courts other than his or her own court and who also periodically presides as judge over custody cases by assignment pursuant to O.C.G.A. § 15-9-9.1 from the Superior Court Judges within his circuit, may represent a party in a custody case in the same judicial circuit in which he serves as both part-time Juvenile Court judge and/or a judge designated to sit as a Superior Court judge.

Commentary:

O.C.G.A. §15-11-18(g) discusses the limitations on the practice of law by part-time juvenile court judges. While the statue does not specifically address the representation of clients in custody matters, the first question is whether such representation violates Rule 1.3 or implicates the recusal provisions of Canon 2. Rule 1.3 prohibits lending the prestige of judicial office to advance the judge’s personal interest, i.e., the private practice of law.

The part-time juvenile court judge serves periodically as a Superior Court judge, sitting by designation on custody matters, in the same county in which he serves as a part-time juvenile court judge. Our prior opinions (Opinions 31, 69, and 224) and the Code of Judicial Conduct (‘Application’ section) address the inherent conflict of a part-time judge practicing law “in the court on which they serve.” Id.

A part-time Juvenile Court judge, who is allowed to practice law in courts other than his or her own court and who also periodically presides as judge over custody cases by assignment pursuant to O.C.G.A. § 15-9-9.1 from the Superior Court Judges within his circuit, may not represent a party in a custody case in the same judicial circuit in which the judge serves as a part-time Juvenile Court judge. When a judge sits by designation as a Superior Court judge on a continuing or periodic basis, the judge is also prohibited from practicing law, in any case, in any Superior Court in the circuit which the judge sits by designation.

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