July 01, 2013

Judicial Disqualification and Friendships with Attorneys

By Cynthia Gray

No bright line signals to a judge when a friendship with an attorney has gone from unremarkable to reasonably relevant to a possible motion for disqualification to raising reasonable questions about the judge’s impartiality. Therefore, judicial ethics advisory opinions have identified numerous factors for a judge to consider in determining when a relationship needs to be disclosed and when it should prompt disqualification.

Although a social association with an attorney does not necessarily raise reasonable questions about a judge’s impartiality, a personal relationship may be so close that the judge is required to disclose the connection when that attorney appears in a case and may even be so significant that the judge is required to disqualify. However, unlike degrees of relationship by blood or marriage, defining the degree of friendship that triggers disqualification is difficult given the spectrum of social associations. Judicial ethics advisory committees can help.

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