ON STANDARDS OF JUDICIAL CONDUCT
OPINION NO. 10 - 2014
RE: Propriety of an appellate court judge presiding over matters in which the judge’s law clerk’s parent is counsel of record or another attorney from the parent’s agency is attorney of record.
An appellate court judge has hired a law clerk whose parent is an attorney for an agency that frequently has cases before the court. The judge inquires as to whether the judge can preside over matters in which the clerk’s parent: 1) is an attorney of record but does not physically appear before the court and does not sign any filings for a particular case; 2) an attorney from the same office as the clerk’s parent signs all pleadings and makes a physical appearance but the clerk’s parent is not an attorney of record.
An appellate court judge may not preside over cases where the parent of the judge’s clerk is an attorney of record, appears on the pleadings, or makes any appearance in the case. Where another attorney from the parent’s agency is attorney of record, the judge’s law clerk is disqualified from any involvement in the case, but the judge is not disqualified.
Canon 3.E.(1)(d) states that a judge should disqualify himself or herself where the judge’s impartiality might reasonably be questioned. In addition, Canons 1 and 2 of the Code of Judicial Conduct require a judge to avoid the appearance of impropriety and act in a manner to promote the public’s confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary.
When the parent of a judge’s law clerk is an attorney of record and appears on the pleadings in the case, or makes any appearance in the case, the judge is disqualified. In matters in which another attorney from the same agency as the parent is the attorney of record and the parent makes no appearance, the law clerk is disqualified under Rule 506, SCACR, Canon 3E(4), which states that law clerk shall disqualify himself in matters in which he is related by blood or marriage to an attorney in a proceeding. Furthermore, the law clerk should be shielded from any part of the case by what is commonly known as a “Chinese Wall.” However, the disqualification of the law clerk does not extend to the judge. In addition, while the judge is not required to disclose that the judge’s law clerk has a parent who works for the same agency as attorney appearing as counsel of record, it would be wise to do so.
July 7, 2014