RE: Propriety of appointing municipal court judge where the judge’s uncle (by marriage) is the chief of police.
A municipal judge has to hire a replacement for another municipal judge who is stepping down from the bench. The inquiring judge has a potential candidate for the position, but the candidate’s uncle, by marriage, is the chief of police for the municipality. The inquiring judge seeks an opinion as to whether such appointment would create a conflict of interest or other ethical violation.
A municipal court judge cannot preside over criminal cases where judge’s uncle is the chief of police.
Canon 2 of the Code of Judicial Conduct requires that a judge “act at all times in a manner that promotes public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary.” Rule 501, SCACR. Furthermore, Canon 3.E(1)(d), SCACR Rule 501 requires a judge to disqualify himself or herself if a person within the third degree of relationship or the spouse of such person is a party to the proceeding, acts as a lawyer to the proceeding, or is a material witness to the proceeding. The Code defines a person “within the third degree of relationship” as a “great-grandparent, grandparent, parent, uncle, aunt, brother, sister, child, grandchild, great-grandchild, nephew or niece.” Rule 501, Terminology (emphasis added).
The fact that the uncle of candidate for municipal judge is the chief of police who prosecutes cases in municipal court would require the judge to disqualify himself or herself from such cases. Repeated disqualification would render the judge unable to perform the duties of judicial office.