October 14, 1982
This is in response to your inquiry as to the propriety of your ruling on matter involving an attorney or the law firm with which he is associated, while you and the attorney are joint owner of a parcel of land.
The land was purchased many years ago when you and the attorney were associated in the same office. You had the dream that perhaps some day you would build a vacation cottage. Like so many dreams, nothing came of it. You did not build and there is presently no real market for the land. You have now finished paying off the mortgage. In the meantime, the attorney has become a partner in one of the major trial firms.
On Opinion No 76-20 a judge owned real and personal property in partnership with another lawyer. The Committee found no impropriety in retaining the partnership interest. The Committee went on to caution that if the transaction is a frequent occurrence, and the lawyer/partner likely to come before the judge, there might be a problem with Canon 5C. Of the eight members responding, the majority felt it was necessary to draw a distinction between a business venture, frequent transactions, and personal/social arrangements. Judges should not preside over cases involving lawyers and/or litigants with whom the judge maintains a business relationship. Likewise, judges should avoid frequent transactions with persons likely to come before the court. But Canon 5A implicitly allows a judge to freely socialize and otherwise associate with his friends, whether they are judges, attorneys, or businessmen. The Committee stressed the importance of that right in Opinion No. 75-29. Lawyers and judges tend to associate together. That is a fact of life. It is good that they do so. Judges need not recuse themselves from cases where their friends are counsel.
It is not unusual for friends to go together in the purchase of property for their enjoyment. Whether that property is a vacation cottage, a sailboat, or a fish camp, there is no requirement for recusal. The purchase of the instant parcel of land is neither a business/financial transaction, nor a frequent occurrence. Consequently, the majority felt you need not recuse yourself in cases handled by the firm or the lawyer.
The dissenting member believed despite the purity of purpose in co-owning the land, litigants and lawyers would perceive some darker motive in rulings favorable to the attorney. This member felt with a large number of judges and rapid communications there is no need for a judge to sit on a case under these circumstances.
James T. Carlisle, Chairman
Committee on Standards of Conduct Governing Judges
cc: All Committee Members
Sid White, Clerk of the Supreme Court
Mr. Mark Hulsey, Chairman, Florida Judicial Qualifications Commission
Linda H. Yates, Managing Editor, Florida Bar Journal
Hon. Howard T. Markey, Chairman, Ethics Advisory Panel of the Judicial Conference of the U.S.
All references to the inquiring judge deleted