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Connecticut Committee on Judicial Ethics
Informal Opinion Summaries

2012-16 (June 1, 2012)
Recommendations
Rules 1.2, 1.3, 2.1 & 2.11
 
Issue: May a Judicial Official complete and submit a questionnaire about a lawyer who is being considered for inclusion in a highly selective international legal honorary society (hereinafter Society)?

Additional Facts: The facts presented included that the lawyer has appeared before the Judicial Official in the past and it is likely that the lawyer or a member of the lawyer’s firm will appear before the Judicial Official in the future (although currently no case is pending before the Judicial Official involving the lawyer or his or her firm); there is a multi-stage process for admission into the Society; until a lawyer under consideration for membership is recommended for approval by the Board, at which time he or she is asked to provide additional personal information, the Society’s rules state that the lawyer is not to be advised, directly or indirectly, of his or her nomination; the Society notes that all information gathered is confidential and an essential part of the admission process is to obtain information from judges before whom the candidate has appeared; and members of the Society include civil and criminal lawyers, as well as those who represent plaintiffs and defendants. In addition, the questionnaire basically asks a limited number of questions, many of which can be answered “yes” or “no” or by checking a box. Based upon the responses that the Judicial Official would provide, the Judicial Official would not be requested to provide any additional information or explanation.

Response: Rule 1.2 requires a judge to act in a manner that promotes public confidence in the impartiality of the judiciary and to avoid impropriety as well as the appearance of impropriety. Rule 1.3 prohibits a judge from using or attempting to use the prestige of judicial office to advance the personal or economic interests of the judge or others or to allow others to do so. Judges are permitted, however, to provide letters of reference or recommendation based on the judge’s personal knowledge. Rule 2.1 states that the judicial duties of a judge take precedence over all of the judge’s personal and extrajudicial activities, while Rule 2.11 requires a judge to disqualify himself or herself in any proceeding in which the judge’s impartiality might reasonably be questioned including, but not limited to, occasions when the judge has a personal bias or prejudice concerning a party’s lawyer.

Based upon the information provided, including that there will be no public disclosure of the completed questionnaires or summaries of questionnaires and that the lawyer did not submit the name of the Judicial Official who will complete the questionnaires and will not be provided with information regarding the Judicial Official, the Committee unanimously determined that completing the questionnaire under review was analogous to providing a letter of support for an attorney as authorized, subject to conditions, by JE 2009-05. The Committee specifically determined that this inquiry was not analogous to completing a peer review for Martindale-Hubbell, which was prohibited in opinion JE 2011-17. Therefore, the Judicial Official may complete and submit the questionnaire subject to the following conditions: (1) the Judicial Official has personal knowledge of the candidate’s qualifications that are relevant to membership in the Society, (2) the candidate is not a relative of the Judicial Official within the meaning of the Code or C.G.S. § 51-39a, (3) the Judicial Official indicates that the opinions expressed represent the personal opinions of the Judicial Official, (4) neither the nominated attorney nor members of his or her law firm or the Society have an appearance before the Judicial Official at the time the questionnaire is provided or for a reasonable period, under the circumstances, before or after the submission of the questionnaire, and (5) if the Judicial Official believes that recusal would be required in order to comply with condition (4) because his or her fairness would be impaired, and that recusal is likely to be frequent, the Judicial Official should not submit the questionnaire.

Committee on Judicial Ethics

 


 

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