November 20, 2008
Perils Of Co-Judging
A city court judge who had permitted partners in the law firm of her co-judge to appear before her was censured by the New York Commission on Judicial Conduct:
It is well-established that the law partners and associates of a part-time judge who is permitted to practice law are barred from practicing law in the judge’s court (Jud. Law §471). This statutory prohibition is reflected in the ethical rules, which provide that such a part-time lawyer-judge “shall not permit his or her partners or associates,” or those of a co-judge, to practice in the judge’s court (Rules, §100.6[B]). Public confidence in the courts is diminished by the appearance of favoritism when a judge presides over a case in which a party is represented by the law partners of his or her judicial colleague.
For nearly four years, in 81 criminal cases and nine civil matters, respondent allowed to appear before her in the Binghamton City Court law partners and associates of her co-judge, Robert C. Murphy. In 45 of the criminal cases, she actively facilitated these improper appearances by assigning Judge Murphy’s partner or associate to represent the defendants. By permitting these attorneys to appear before her though they were statutorily barred from doing so, respondent was complicit in persistent violations of the law.
The Commission concluded that the violations were not intentional in that the judge was unaware of the prohibition. Howver, the Commission called the decision to censure rather than remove from office a close call.
Another judge was admonished for similar misconduct involving law partners of the same judge. The Commission noted that the practice deemed unethical here had predated the assumption of the judicial post by the judge who was subject to the admonition. The judicial position is a part-time one. (Mike Frisch)
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