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South Carolina
JUDICIAL DEPARTMENT
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Advisory Opinions

ADVISORY COMMITTEE
ON STANDARDS OF JUDICIAL CONDUCT

OPINION NO. 3-2010

RE: Duty of a circuit court judge to recuse himself or herself from presiding over a series of criminal cases in which family members of the clerk of court are the victims.

FACTS

A retired, active circuit court judge has inquired as to whether or not the judge must recuse himself or herself in the following circumstances. The defendant is before the court on various counts of criminal conduct. Among the accused's victims are family members of the clerk of court. The inquiring judge retired about 18 months after the clerk took office, but has continued in an active retired capacity. The judge had not met the clerk (nor any member of the clerk's family) prior to the clerk's election to office. However, after the clerk's election to office and prior to the judge's retirement, the judge had regular contact with the clerk and the clerk's staff on official business--generally three or four times per week. Since the judge's retirement, the contact with the clerk over the last four years has been less than once a week. The inquiring judge may have met the clerk's spouse since the clerk took office, but no more than one or two times, and the judge has not met any other member of the clerk's family, and has no social contact with the clerk, the clerk's spouse, or members of the clerk's family. The judge has never met the defendant or his family or any other victims of the defendant.

CONCLUSION

The circuit court judge is not required to recuse himself or herself in this situation.

OPINION

Rule Canon 3.E., Rule 501 SCACR, governs the disqualification of judges. A judge should disqualify himself or herself in proceedings in which the judge's impartiality might reasonably be questioned, such as when "the judge has a personal bias or prejudice concerning a party or party's lawyer...." Canon 3.E (1)(a).

Here, the inquiring judge has had only limited professional contact with the clerk of court and no social contact with the clerk or members of the clerk's family. Thus, the judge has no apparent personal bias or prejudice that requires recusal under the Code of Judicial Conduct.

 

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A. CAMDEN LEWIS, CHAIRMAN

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JOCELYN B. CATE

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G. EDWARD WELMAKER

March 31, 2010