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Opinion 64

A judge has requested an Advisory Opinion as to whether it would violate the canons for him to write a letter to the Clerk of the Supreme Court approving the petition for reinstatement of an attorney of his local Bar who had previously been disbarred.

Georgia Bar Rule 4-301 requires that, before a petition for reinstatement may be considered, two-thirds of the active members of the State Bar of the circuit where the disciplined attorney was residing when the infraction occurred, or one hundred of such attorneys, whichever is the lessor, must approve the same in writing. The judge is, by Georgia Bar Rule 1202, included in the definition of such active members.

Georgia Bar Rule 4-301 (C) provides that such written approvals shall not accompany the petition for reinstatement, but shall be mailed by the individual Bar members directly to the Clerk of the Supreme Court, who shall keep the names confidential and who shall certify to the State Disciplinary Board whether the required number has or has not given approval.

Canon 1 provides that:

Judges should avoid impropriety and the appearance of impropriety in all their activities.

Rules 1.3 and 2.4(C) provide, in part, as follows:

Rule 1.3 Respecting the Prestige of Judicial Office

Judges shall not lend the prestige of their office to advance the private interests of the judge or others.

Rule 2.4 External Influences on Judicial Conduct

(C) Judges shall not convey or enable others to convey the impression that any person or organization is in a position to influence the judge.

To justify the confidence which is reposed in them, members of the judiciary must submit to restrictions on their conduct which do not apply to others, as is pointed out in Commentary [2] which follows Rule 1.2, as follows:

Judges must expect to be the subject of constant public scrutiny. Judges must therefore accept restrictions on their conduct that might be viewed as burdensome by the ordinary citizen, and they should do so freely and willingly.

For that reason, endorsements or recommendations which are sought primarily by reason of the prestige of the judicial office would constitute a violation of Canon 2 and would be inappropriate. In the present instance, however, the requested approval relates to a former attorney who has practiced before the judge in his circuit, and the approval is to go to the Clerk of the Supreme Court, along with those of other approving members of the local Bar, and is not to be disclosed by the Clerk. For that reason, and also because the judge is himself one of the constituency whose approval is mandated by the rule, no violation of the canon would appear to be involved.

[Pertinent Code of Judicial Conduct provisions: Rules 1.2(B), 2.4(B), 2.13(A)(2), 3.7(A)(2). Cross reference to other relevant opinions for review: #9, #30, #63.]

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