March 12, 1996
Judge's former judicial assistant
as secretary in local law firm
Re: Committee on Standards of Conduct Governing Judges
Your inquiry dated January 3, 1996
You ask several questions related to the employment of your former judicial assistant as a secretary in a local law firm. The firm practices civil law, and you are currently in the general civil division.
You first ask whether you must disclose the situation to all parties and/or counsel in cases in which your former J.A.'s firm is participating. The relevant Code provision is Canon 3E, which provides that "A judge shall disqualify himself or herself in a proceeding in which the judge's impartiality might reasonably be questioned..."In addition, you must adhere to Canon 2, in avoiding impropriety and the appearance of impropriety.
Unless your former J.A. had worked with you on a case that is now brought before you by her firm, your impartiality cannot be reasonably questioned and you need not make disclosure. Instances in which she worked with you on cases now before you require disclosure and disqualification unless waived.
Your next question deals with how long the period of disclosure should last. One year from the date that your J.A. left your employ is a reasonable period of time for advising parties and counsel of the situation. After this period, you should consider making disclosure at your discretion.
The final question involves the legal sufficiency of a motion to disqualify where disclosure of the situation was not made. Answering this question is outside the scope of the Committee, and you should review the appropriate Rule of Judicial Administration to determine if such motion would be legally sufficient. All ten responding committee members agree with the decision above.
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 So.2d 5 (Fla.1976).
Oliver L. Green, Jr.
Chairman, Committee on Standards of Conduct Governing Judges
cc: All Committee Members
Office of the State Courts Administrator
(name of judge deleted from this copy)
Participating Members: Judges Cardonne, Doughtie, Green, C. Kahn, L. Kahn, Patterson, Rushing, Silverman, Tolton and Attorney Novicki