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Connecticut Committee on Judicial Ethics
Informal Opinion Summaries

2009-15 (April 30, 2009)
Recommendation; Attorneys; Disclosure/Disqualification; Canon 2

Issues: May a Judicial Official provide references consisting essentially of performance evaluations in response to form questionnaires for attorneys seeking contracts with the Commission on Child Protection to provide representation to children and indigent respondents in neglect and termination of parental rights proceedings in juvenile court?

Response: The inquiring Judicial Official has posed a series of questions in connection with this issue. Because some of the questions fall outside the scope of this Committee’s jurisdiction, the Committee limits its response to answering those which are dispositive of the main issue.

This Committee has previously advised that a Judicial Official may serve as a reference or provide a letter of recommendation in the following circumstances: an existing court employee applying for another position within the Judicial Branch (JE 2008-01); a former legal research/law clerk applying for a position with the Attorney General’s Office (JE 2008-03); a current Judicial Branch employee applying for a position in the Judicial Official’s judicial district, where the judicial official was neither an administrative, assistant administrative or presiding judge (JE 2008-26); an attorney nominated for a professional service award from a private organization (JE 2009-05); a person applying for a position as a police officer with a municipal police department (JE 2009-08); and a person applying to United States Senators for recommendation of nomination to a federal law enforcement position (JE 2009-13). In each case, the Committee approved the activity subject to the following conditions:

  1. The Judicial Official must have personal knowledge of the candidate’s qualifications that are relevant to the particular position for which the candidate is applying;
  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 candidate nor the hiring authority have cases pending or appearances before the Judicial Official at the time the recommendation is provided or for a reasonable period of time after the submission of the letter of recommendation; 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 provide the reference or letter of recommendation.

Based upon the facts presented, including that the Commission's reference/evaluation forms were sent to virtually all Judicial Officials assigned to hear juvenile matters, that many juvenile courts in the state only have one judge assigned to each court location, that the applicants appear regularly before the Judicial Officials, and that the process is not likely to remain confidential, the Committee unanimously determined that Judicial Officials who serve as juvenile judges should decline, under Canon 2, to serve as evaluators or references in response to the form request from the Child Protection Attorney because participation in this process would require recusal both presently and in the future with respect to any case handled by the contract attorneys, directly implicating the fifth condition that the Committee specified in earlier opinions. Although the Committee appreciates the need for the Commission on Child Protection to evaluate attorneys on the basis of merit in the process of awarding contracts, compliance with the current process would put Judicial Officials in the untenable position of violating the Code.

Committee on Judicial Ethics

 


 

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