Receded from in Opinion 99-02
October 14, 1993
Personal and Confidential
Recusal - social friends with attorneys
Re: Committee on Standards of Conduct Governing Judges
Your inquiry dated September 13, 1993
You have asked our Committee to consider the ethical implications in the following situation. You have a close social friend who is an attorney in a fairly large law firm. This relationship is not such that you feel that recusal is necessary. However, upon a recent motion you recused yourself. You are concerned whether you must disclose your social relationship with the particular attorney and whether this disclosure must be made when members of the attorney's firm are before you and whether you must recuse yourself upon request after having made such disclosure.
Our Committee's response addresses only the ethical implications and not the legal requirements for recusals. Obviously, if a motion for recusal is made and it is legally sufficient, then the judge should grant the motion and recuse. See, for example, Leigh v. Smith, 503 So.2d 989 5th DCA 1987.
It is our Committee's opinion that if a judge discloses a possible conflict, then, upon motion, the judge should recuse regardless of the legal sufficiency of the motion. We are further of the opinion that if a judge feels that a disclosure should be made concerning a particular attorney, then the disclosure should be made concerning members of the attorney's law firm. See, for example, prior opinion 89-8.
The question of when a judge must reveal his close personal relationship with an attorney is very difficult to address. Judges should certainly be aware that close social relationships with attorneys may create an appearance of impropriety. On the other hand, we are of the opinion that judges should certainly not remain socially apart from attorneys. When disclosure is necessary may involve how well the attorneys are known to the judge. If the judge has, for example, a weekly tennis game with a couple of lawyers, it may not be necessary to mention this to other members of the local bar, but it may be prudent to disclose this to an out-of-town attorney.
Two members of our Committee feel that disclosure may not be necessary for members of a social friend's law firm unless the case is a very significant case in the overall scheme of things. In your particular case, since an attorney either rightly or wrongly felt that your should recuse yourself, the majority of the Committee would advise that you disclose your relationship to that friend in future cases involving the close friend and members of the firm.
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).
Very truly yours,
Nath C. Doughtie, Chairman
Committee on Standards of Conduct Governing Judges
cc: All Committee Members
Office of State Court Administrator (name of Judge deleted from this copy)
Participating members: Judges Doughtie, Goldstein, Green, Kahn, Patterson, Tolton and Edwards, Esq.