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South Carolina
JUDICIAL DEPARTMENT
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Advisory Opinions

ADVISORY COMMITTEE
ON STANDARDS OF JUDICIAL CONDUCT

OPINION NO. 05 - 2013

RE The propriety of a part-time municipal judge representing, at post-seizure hearing in the Magistrate’s Court, owners of video gaming machines which were seized by City police.

FACTS

The judge is currently a part-time Municipal Court Judge and a practicing attorney.  The judge has been asked to represent, at post-seizure hearing in the Magistrate’s Court, the  owners of video gaming machines which were seized by City police.  The judge inquires into the propriety of accepting such representation.

CONCLUSION

A part-time municipal judge may not represent, at post-seizure hearing in the Magistrate’s Court, owners of video gaming machines which were seized by City police.

OPINION

A continuing part-time judge is not required to comply with Canon 4G that prohibits a judge from practicing law.  Rule 501, Application C(1)(b), SCACR.  A part-time judge may practice law, subject to several limitations under the Code of Judicial Conduct. “A continuing part-time judge shall not practice law in the court on which the judge serves or in any court subject to the appellate jurisdiction of the court on which the judge serves, and shall not act as a lawyer in a proceeding in which the judge has served as a judge or in any other proceeding related thereto.”  Rule 501, Application C(2), SCACR.   Canon 2 mandates that judges avoid the appearance of impropriety in their activities and conduct themselves “in a manner that promotes public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary.”  Rule 501, SCACR. 

Here, the Magistrate’s Court is not subject to the appellate jurisdiction of the City court and the judge would not be acting as a lawyer in proceeding in which he had served as judge.  However, as we noted in Opinion 14-2002, it would be improper for a part-time municipal judge to act as an attorney in representing a client in a matter investigated and brought by the municipality in which he serves.  This would not promote public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary.  Here, the City police investigated and seized the video gaming machines.  Thus, even though the matter is now pending before the Magistrate’s Court, it would be improper for the  municipal judge to represent the owners of those machines. The involvement of the City police could intrude on the “public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary” and therefore the judge’s representation of the owners would violate Canon 2.

 

s/_____________________________________
KEITH M. BABCOCK, ACTING CHAIRMAN

s/_____________________________________
G. EDWARD WELMAKER

s/_____________________________________
JOCELYN B. CATE

May 21, 2013