SUBJECT: Should a judge disclose his relationship with someone
employed by the State Attorney's Office as a "Child Vicitim
Specialist" to all parties that appear before him in court?
The inquiring judge serves as administrative traffic judge in a large Florida county. He has recently begun to date a woman who is employed by the State Attorney's Office as a "Child Victim Specialist." This woman conducts interviews of children who are allegedly victioms of sexual abuse. She is not an attorney. Although she does testify on occassion, she is unlikely to testify in any case coming before this judge, and the judge states that were she involved in any way in a case before him, he would immediately disqualify himself. He asks whether he must disclose "this relationship" to the "roughly 200 or so parties that appear before him on a given morning or afternoon."
The Committe does not view this matter in the same light as a familial or marital relationship, as recently published Opinion 97-8. The present inquiry involves a very large state attorney's office in which the woman in question serves in a division completely apart from that division generally involved in cases that appear before the inquiring judge. Noeverthless, prior opinions involving relatives employed in non-legal capacities provide some guidance.
In Opinions 80-5 and 80-6, the Committee found no impropriety wher a judge's child worked at the State Attorney's Office or the Clerk of the Circuit Court for the summer. In Opinion 84-7, the Committee did not object to a judge's wife's employemtn as a field representative in the Insurance Commiossioner's Office so lang as the wife's employment did not place her in a position of interest with reference to any matter coming before the judge. In Opinion 84-15, the Committee advised that a judge's spouse could apply for the directorship of a guardian ad litem program, but recusal would be required if the spouse became involved in any matter brought before the judge. The facts in Opinion 90-23 reveal that the judge's spouse had supervisory authority as district program administrator of the formert Department of Health and Rehabilitative Services. The Committee advised that the judge should refrain form presiding in any case where the spouse had supervisory authority.
In the present inquiry, as long as the judge is involved in what might be referred to as a traditioal dating relationship, he may preside over all cases so long as his friend has had no involvement whatsoever. He should, within the bounds of appropriate confidence and propriety, advise his friend of his lofty ethical constraints so as to head off any potential embarrassment or conflicrt. Should the relationship progerss beyond the mere dating stage, the judge would have to make a decision under Canon 3E whether his impartiality might reasonably be questioned in any proceeding involving the State Attorney's Office.
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).
Dated the 7th day of May, 1997.
Charles J. Kahn, Jr.
Chairman, Committee on Standards of Conduct Governing Judges
Participation Members: Judges Cardonne, Dell, Green, C. Kahn, L. Kahn, Patterson, Rushing, Smith, Tolton and Attorney Novicki
cc: All Committee Members
Office of the State Courts Administrator
Justice Charles T. Wells (name of judge deleted from this copy)