December 4, 1989
Opinion No. 89/17
Canons 2, 3
Recusal - family member in law firm
In your inquiry you have posed the following questions:
"1) Is there any impropriety or appearance of impropriety with a judge hearing and ruling on cases where one of the law firms for the litigants in the case has in its employ the judge's niece's husband as an attorney associate (even though that associate does not work on the case in front of the judge)?
2) Assuming question (1) is answered in the negative, should the judge make a pronouncement at hearings of the relationship with the attorney associate?
3) Assuming question (2) is answered in the positive, is it necessary for the judge to comply with Canon 3D, entitled Remittal of Disqualification, by obtaining a writing by all parties and lawyers agreeing that the relationship is immaterial?
4) Assuming question (3) is answered in the positive, what can the judge do in cases where there are no responsive pleadings by the other party, such as a default mortgage foreclosure?"
A majority of the Committee recommends adherence to the practice of making the parties before you aware of your relationship to the law firm in which your niece's husband is an associate.
In light of your policy, which we approve, to announce that "My niece's husband, my nephew, is an associate with this law firm; if anyone wants me to recuse myself, please file a motion and proposed order and I will grant it. He does not work on any cases assigned to this division," we have responded to your questions numbered one and two, thus making it unnecessary to respond to question 3.
One member of the committee has suggested that in the circumstance where you are faced with a default mortgage foreclosure you may proceed to a ruling without concern for your niece's husband's employment.
The committee is expressly charged with rendering advisory opinions interpreting the application of the Code of Judicial Conduct to specific circumstances confronting or affecting a judge or judicial candidate. Its opinions are advisory to the inquiring party, to the Judicial Qualifications Commission and to the judiciary at large. Conduct that is consistent with an advisory opinion issued by the committee may be evidence of good faith on the part of the judge, but the Judicial Qualifications Commission is not bound by the interpretive opinions issued by the committee. Petition of the Committee on Standards of Conduct for Judges 327 So2d 5 (Fla. 1976).
Richard H. Frank, Chairman
Committee on Standards of Conduct Governing Judges
cc: All Committee Members
Participating Members: Judges Green, Tolton, Booth, Dell, Doughtie,Frank, Simons, Shutter and Clarke, Esquire.
All reference to the inquiring judge is deleted from the copies sent to the following individuals.
Mr. Sid White, Clerk of the Supreme Court of Florida
Linda Yates, Managing Editor, The Florida Bar Journal
Brooke S. Kennerly, Executive Director, Judicial Qualifications Commission.
Hon. Walter K. Stapleton, Chairman, Ethics Advisory Panel of the Judicial Conference of the United States .
Jeffrey M. Shaman, Esquire, Director, Center for Judicial Conduct Organizations
Ms. Jean Underhill, Librarian, Broward County Law Library
Mr. Robert Wallace, Librarian, Dade County Law Library
Mr. Brian Polley, Librarian, Supreme Court of Florida
Mr. Richard Kuhn, Court Administrator, Lee County
Hon. Thomas H . Barkdull , Jr ., Third District Court of Appeal
Ms. Georgeanne Marsh, Center for Professional Responsibility, American Bar Association