2012-09 (Emergency Staff Opinion issued April 4, 2012)
Is a Judicial Official disqualified from
presiding over a case if a former partner of the
Judicial Official serves as a special master?
If not, should the Judicial Official disclose
the relationship with the former law partner?
The first time a case appears on the docket, it
is referred to a special master to see if the matter
can be resolved or the issues narrowed.
If the case is settled or the issues
narrowed, the special master reports that to the
court, otherwise it is simply reported to the court
that the matter could not be resolved.
The Judicial Official recuses himself or
herself when the former partner appears in court
before the Judicial Official.
The inquiry was circulated to the Committee members
and input solicited.
On the facts presented, it was determined
that the former law partner when acting as a special
master was serving as an agent of the court in a
neutral capacity, and therefore the Judicial
Official’s impartiality should not be reasonably
questioned within the meaning of Rule 2.11 and the
Judicial Official is not automatically disqualified.
Notwithstanding the foregoing, the Judicial
Official should disclose the prior relationship and
if an objection is raised with respect to the former
partner serving as the special master, rather than
recuse him or herself, the Judicial Official should
assign the case to a different special master. If
necessary, the case could be continued in order to
be referred to a different special master.