The Judicial Qualifications Commission has been asked to render an opinion as to whether the Georgia Code of Judicial Conduct prohibits a judge from writing a recommendation for employment or further education for a person who served as law clerk or intern, deputy sheriff, legal secretary or court reporter in the judge’s court and office and who was responsible to the judge for the performance of their duties in these positions.
We are also asked to render an opinion as to whether the Canons prohibit a judge from writing a recommendation for employment or further education of other employees in the court (such as a probation officer, detention and clerical staff) whose performance of duties was known to the judge.
Finally, an opinion is requested as to whether the Canons prohibit the signing of applications for bar examinations for a law intern who has worked with the judge in the court.
Generally, a judge is charged with the duty of avoiding impropriety, and the appearance of impropriety in all of his activities. This is the title to Canon 1. As an illustration of this obligation, Rule 1.3 of this Canon provides that “Judges shall not lend the prestige of their office to advance the private interests of the judge or others.”
The questions propounded in general refer to letters written by a judge which recommend a person, whose character and capabilities are well known to the judge, for employment or educational opportunities. The final question also involves the act of a judge in certifying to the character of an applicant who desires to take the bar examination.
It does not appear to the Commission that as a general rule any of these types of recommendations would constitute a violation of Canon 1.
However, there could, of course, be special instances that might make the recommendation improper, such as a recommendation for employment directed to an employer who then has a case pending in a judge’s court. There might be other situations which would indicate to a judge that it was not the judge’s individual endorsement which was being sought, but that primarily it was the office that was the important factor in the situation. However, the Commission feels that a judge should have no difficulty in distinguishing between the two situations.
[Pertinent Code of Judicial Conduct provisions: Rule 1.2(B), 2.4(C), 2.13(A)(2), 3.7(A)(3). Cross reference to other relevant opinions for review: #30, #63, #64.]