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Connecticut Committee on Judicial Ethics
Informal Opinion Summaries

2011-27 (November 15, 2011)
Court Employees; Appearance of Impropriety; Family; Disclosure/Disqualification
Canon 1; Rules 1.2, 2.4 & 2.11
 
Issue: Is a Judicial Official in violation of the Code of Judicial Conduct by allowing to serve as his/her courtroom clerk a court employee who is an immediate family member of a criminal defendant whom the Judicial Official sentenced?

Additional Facts: The court employee, who is not an attorney, performs courtroom clerk and related duties, but does not perform legal research. The court employee is assigned by someone other than the inquiring Judicial Official and is one of only a couple of staff members who are rotated among the assigned judges.

The court employee intervened in his/her family member’s plea acceptance and sentencing by convincing the prosecutor to reduce the charges. The Judicial Official sentenced in accordance with the plea agreement and was not aware of the employee’s relationship to the defendant or involvement with plea negotiations at the time of accepting the defendant’s plea and imposing sentence. The defendant is still subject to Judicial Branch supervision (i.e., probation), and it is foreseeable that the case may return to the Judicial Official’s court at some point during the period of supervision.


Response: Based on the facts presented, the Committee unanimously concluded that the Code does not prohibit the Judicial Official from allowing the court employee to work as a clerk in the Judicial Official’s courtroom. The Judicial Official should, however, take appropriate steps to insulate the court employee from handling any proceeding in which his or her relative is involved so as to avoid any impression that the employee is “in a position to influence the judge’s judicial conduct or judgment” in violation of Rule 2.4(c). Should insulation be unrealistic due to the small number of employees assigned to work at the particular court location, the Judicial Official should recuse him/herself under Rule 2.11 and transfer any cases involving the relative to another court in order to maintain public confidence in the judiciary and avoid the appearance of impropriety consistent with the requirements of Canon 1 and Rule 1.2.

Committee on Judicial Ethics

 


 

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