ON STANDARDS OF JUDICIAL CONDUCT
OPINION NO. 12 - 2013
RE :Propriety of a recently-elected Circuit Court judge receiving payment of fees for a case initiated prior to the judge’s ascension to the bench.
A circuit court judge, while still in private practice, referred several cases to another attorney and was to receive certain fees from these cases. One of the matters has now settled and the others should also be resolved soon. The judge inquires as to the propriety of receiving these fees from the attorney to whom he referred the cases prior to the judge’s ascension to the bench.
A judge can receive fees for cases referred to another attorney prior to the judge’s ascension to the bench.
In Advisory Opinion 8-2003 and 21-1998, the Committee considered the propriety of newly-elected judges receiving a share of a contingency fee for legal work performed prior to their judicial positions. The Committee also stated “a newly elected judge may receive reasonable remuneration for services actually rendered prior to taking the bench[.]” A judge must divest himself or herself of all involvement within reasonable time and should not engage in any actions that could be considered the practice of law after taking the bench, including any consultations with former clients, even pertaining to ongoing cases and prior work done for that client. S.C.A.C.R. 501, Canon 4(G). See 21-1998.
Under the reasoning of Opinions 8-2003 and 21-1998 and the Code of Judicial Conduct, the inquiring judge can accepts fees for the cases referred to another attorney prior to the judge’s ascension to the bench. However, until all of the fees are paid, the judge should not preside in cases in which the attorney, with whom the judge is sharing fees, appears as counsel. Thus, it would behoove the judge to resolve the financial issues as quickly as possible.
December 5, 2013