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Connecticut Committee on Judicial Ethics
Informal Opinion Summaries

2013-17 (April 19, 2013)
Extrajudicial Activities
Rules 1.2, 2.11, 3.1 & 3.7

 
Issue: May a Judicial Official continue his or her membership in the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers (“AAML”) in the capacity of a Judicial Fellow?
 
Additional Information: According to the AAML’s admissions standards (see http://aaml.org/aaml-fellow-register), only highly experienced practicing matrimonial law attorneys may apply for membership in the AAML. The admissions standards further provide that a judge may not apply for admission to the AAML unless the judge “is in the active practice of law while being a sitting judge”; in Connecticut, however, Rule 3.10 of the Code of Judicial Conduct generally prohibits judges from engaging in the practice of law. According to the Executive Director of the AAML, an attorney who is admitted to the AAML as a Fellow and who subsequently becomes a judge may remain affiliated with the AAML as a Judicial Fellow, even if the Judicial Fellow will not be engaged in the practice of law.
 
AAML Fellows (including Judicial Fellows) are not obligated to perform any role or duties. Some of the benefits of being a Fellow include a listing on the AAML website for the public to contact, eligibility for the AAML’s continuing legal education seminars, and the general opportunity to network with other Fellows. Currently, there are approximately 30 attorneys admitted in Connecticut who are Fellows.

Response: Rule 1.2 of the Code of Judicial Conduct states that a “judge shall act at all times in a manner that promotes public confidence in the independence, integrity, and impartiality of the judiciary and shall avoid impropriety and the appearance of impropriety.”

Rule 2.11 provides that a “judge shall disqualify himself or herself in any proceeding in which the judge’s impartiality might reasonably be questioned….”

Rule 3.1 of the Code of Judicial Conduct provides that subject to certain conditions a judge “may engage in extrajudicial activities except as prohibited by law.” When engaging in extrajudicial activities, a judge shall not:

  1. participate in activities that will interfere with the proper performance of the judge’s judicial duties;
  2. participate in activities that will lead to frequent disqualification of the judge;
  3. participate in activities that would appear to a reasonable person to undermine the judge’s independence, integrity, or impartiality;…
The rule’s commentary encourages judges to participate in appropriate extrajudicial activities and observes that “[j]udges are uniquely qualified to engage in extrajudicial activities that concern the law, the legal system, and the administration of justice.” Rule 3.1, cmt. (1).

Similarly, Rule 3.7(a) provides that a judge “may participate in activities sponsored by organizations or governmental entities concerned with the law, the legal system, or the administration of justice.” The rule’s commentary states that “[e]ven for law related organizations, a judge should consider whether the membership and purposes of the organization, or the nature of the judge’s participation in or association with the organization, would conflict with the judge’s obligation to refrain from activities that reflect adversely on a judge’s independence, integrity, and impartiality.” Rule 3.7, cmt. (2).

Based upon the information provided, a majority of the Committee (with one member dissenting) determined that the Judicial Official may continue his or her membership with the AAML as a Judicial Fellow, subject to the following conditions:
  1. if a Fellow of the AAML appears before the Judicial Official, the Judicial Official should disclose the relationship to all parties (Rule 1.2);


  2. if an issue comes before the Judicial Official for decision that involves a matter on which AAML has taken a public position (such as by adopting a resolution or filing an amicus curiae brief), the Judicial Official should consider whether recusal is necessary (Rule 2.11);


  3. if the Judicial Official is contacted by a member of the public seeking a referral, the Judicial Official may not recommend the name of an attorney. However, if the individual requesting the recommendation has a sufficiently close relationship to the Judicial Official that the Judicial Official would automatically recuse himself or herself from a case involving that person independent of whether the Judicial Official provides a recommendation, the Judicial Official may recommend the name of an attorney. If a Judicial Official provides a recommendation, he/she should recommend multiple names of counsel (See JE 2008-17); and


  4. the Judicial Official should regularly reexamine the activities and rules of the AAML to determine whether it is proper for the Judicial Official to continue his or her relationship with it and, particularly since AAML has a limited number of members in Connecticut and membership is restricted to a particular segment of the bar, the Judicial Official should carefully consider whether the Judicial Official’s identification with or involvement in specific programs or activities of the AAML may undermine confidence in the Judicial Official’s independence, integrity and impartiality (Rules 1.2 and 3.7) or may result in frequent recusals, which may unduly limit the availability of the Judicial Official to hear all types of cases that come before the court (See Comment to Rule 2.7).
One member of the Committee expressed strong reservations about whether it would be prudent for a Judicial Official to continue his or her membership with the AAML as a Judicial Fellow, even if not a technical violation of the Code of Judicial Conduct. The reservations were based on AAML’s prerequisites for membership, which effectively preclude many attorneys/judges from being invited to join, and its potential for lobbying and for advocacy. These facts may create a perception that AAML is a partisan organization that does not reflect the many different segments of the bar or represent various sides of professional issues. In addition, as an AAML Judicial Fellow the Judicial Official may devote some time to monitoring the organization’s lobbying and advocacy activities and may have to avoid particular assignments, for example , as a family presiding judge or a family trial judge, to avoid a conflict with Rule 3.1.

Committee on Judicial Ethics

 


 

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