ON STANDARDS OF JUDICIAL CONDUCT
OPINION NO. 04 - 2013
RE Propriety of an employee of court administration serving as a part-time municipal judge.
An employee of court administration, which is a division of the South Carolina Judicial Department, is interested in serving as a part-time municipal judge. The candidate has inquired as to whether the candidate can continue employment with court administration if the candidate is appointed as a part-time municipal judge.
A part-time municipal judge may continue employment with court administration, a division of the South Carolina Judicial Department.
In many opinions, we have we considered issues of part-time judges maintaining employment. See, e.g., Opinions 18-1998 (part-time judge could retain full-time employment as insurance agent/ financial planner); 2-1999 (part-time municipal judge could maintain employment in county sheriff’s office); 6-2005 (a part-time magistrate could be employed by a law firm as a paralegal and investigator). The Code of Judicial Conduct excepts a “part-time judge” from certain prohibitions of the Canons. Rule 501, Application of the Code of Judicial Conduct (D). Though part-time judges are not prohibited from employment, such employment still must be in accord with the general mandates applicable to all judges, whether full-time or part-time. Judges must always uphold the integrity and independence of the judiciary at all times, and judges should avoid impropriety and the appearance of impropriety in all of their activities. S.C.A.C.R. 501, Canon 1 and Canon 2.
In Opinion 6-2005, this committee considered the issue of whether a part-time magistrate could be employed by a law firm as a paralegal and investigator. We concluded that such employment was permissible as long as the judge observed certain restrictions, including that the judge would disqualify himself from any magistrate court proceeding in which an attorney from the employing firm appeared. In Opinion 19-2009, we applied the same rationale to a part-time magistrate who was also employed as an investigator on a military installation, finding that if any other employee of the Judge Advocate office or the Inspector General office, or a subject of a military investigation, appeared in the magistrate’s court, the judge would have to disqualify himself.
The Committee believes the logic of these two opinions applies in this matter. A part-time judge may also be employed by as a court administrator for the S.C. Judicial Department. However, if another employee of the S.C. Judicial Department appears in the municipal court, the judge would have to disqualify himself or herself. The judge must also be cautioned that if such employment causes frequent disqualifications which prevent the judge from diligently carrying out judicial duties as described, the judge may have to alter his/her employment.
February 20, 2013