January 16, 1981
This is in response to your letter of November 21st, 1980. You want to know if, as the only circuit judge sitting in a relatively small county, there is any impropriety should your wife begin working for a local attorney, and whether you must disqualify yourself each time he appears in a case before you.
Two of the members of the Committee on Standards of Conduct Governing Judges took the position that our Opinion 78-20 was dispositive of the matter. There we held that there was no impropriety in a judge sitting on cases argues (sic) by members of a law firm in which the judge's spouse was a junior partner. We also held that the judge must advise the parties of the relationship and offer recusal in those cases. It was also held that the judge must recuse in cases where the spouse was attorney of record.
The majority of our members, were of the opinion that we should recede from opinion 78-20. As one member put it: "It is ill advised and should be avoided. The local bar, as well as the public, will sense favoritism in everything from the scheduling of the hearings for (the secretary's) employer to the judge's rulings in his cases. Regardless of his actual impartiality, it is a no-win situation for (the judge) unless he disqualifies himself." And as another member noted, since you are the only circuit judge in the county, recusal will pose a problem.
James T. Carlisle, Chairman
Committee on Standards of Conduct Governing Judges
cc: All Committee Members
Sid White, Clerk of the Supreme Court
Florida Judicial Qualifications Commission
Florida Bar Journal
All references to the inquiring judge deleted