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Connecticut Committee on Judicial Ethics
Informal Opinion Summaries

2013-45 (Emergency Staff Opinion issued November 1, 2013)
Appearance of Impropriety; Disclosure/Disqualification; Bias & Prejudice Rules 1.2 & 2.11
 
Issue: 
A juvenile prosecutor consulted with an attorney about an adult criminal matter involving a Judicial Official’s family member a couple of years ago.  The lawyer that was consulted, at the time, was a partner with the Judicial Official’s spouse.  (They are no longer partners.)  A file was opened by the law firm and a nominal fee was charged.  The file was closed approximately 1 ½ years ago by the law firm and the file remained with the firm.  According to the former partner, there was no ongoing duty of representation; however, the prosecutor claims that the firm was retained with respect to potential future matters related to the underlying consultation.  The Judicial Official’s spouse was never involved in providing advice concerning the matter.
 
The prosecutor believes that the Judicial Official has a conflict and has instructed his staff not to go to court if the Judicial Official is presiding on an upcoming court date.  The Judicial Official does not hold a personal bias or prejudice concerning the prosecutor.
 
The Judicial Official has inquired whether he or she may preside over unrelated cases  and whether the Judicial Official has a duty to disclose the Judicial Official’s spouse’s firm’s past relationship with the attorney.
 

Applicable Rules:   Rule 1.2 states that “a judge shall act at all times in a manner that promotes public confidence in the independence, integrity, and impartiality of the judiciary and shall avoid impropriety and the appearance of impropriety.  The test for appearance of impropriety is whether the conduct would create in reasonable minds a perception that the judge violated this Code or engaged in other conduct that reflects adversely on the judge’s honesty, impartiality, temperament, or fitness to serve as a judge.”
 
Rule 2.11 states, in relevant part, as follows:

(a)  A judge shall disqualify himself or herself in any proceeding in which the judge’s impartiality might reasonably be questioned including, but not limited to, the following circumstances:

(1)  The judge has a personal bias or prejudice concerning a party or a party’s lawyer, or personal knowledge of facts that are in dispute in the proceeding.

Emergency Staff Opinion: After consulting with several members of the Committee, staff counsel advised the Judicial Official that while the Committee did not believe that the Judicial Official’s impartiality might reasonably be questioned or that there was an appearance of impropriety if the Judicial Official presided over the unrelated juvenile cases involving the prosecutor’s office, the Judicial Official should consult with the Administrative Judge or other individual to see if the matter could be avoided by having another judge handle the docket and to also pursue an administrative remedy by having either the State’s Attorney or the Chief State’s Attorney discuss with the prosecutor the impropriety of instructing staff not to report to court if a particular judge is on the bench. One member of the Committee believed that (a) the Judicial Official may hear cases where other prosecutors are appearing before the Judicial Official and that (b) the Judicial Official should disclose the relationship with the juvenile prosecutor to the parties and their counsel for a reasonable period of time, which is not less than two years from the date of the file was closed by the law firm.

Committee on Judicial Ethics

 


 

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