Tuesday, February 24, 2009
A recent opinion from the Florida Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee on the ethical implications of employing retired lawyers as judicial staff attorneys:
Although the Code of Judicial Conduct does not directly apply to judicial assistants, staff attorneys, and other court officials, it indirectly applies to them. Canon 3C(2) of the Code of Judicial Conduct mandates that a judge “shall require staff, court officials and others subject to the judge’s direction and control to observe the same standards of fidelity and diligence that apply to the judge.” Therefore, it is incumbent on judges to diligently monitor actions of staff that might bring into question the independence of the judiciary and the appearance of impropriety. See Fla. Code Jud. Conduct, Canons 1 and 2.
Consequently, salaried judicial staff attorneys have ethical restrictions on their activities. Using the volunteer services of retired attorneys would be permissible as long as the Inquiring Judge’s circuit required that these volunteers have the same ethical restrictions on their activities as paid staff attorneys.
It is important to note that the volunteers the Inquiring Judge’s circuit intends to utilize are retired attorneys who are not practicing law. As a result, no conflict can occur from a volunteer staff attorney appearing before a judge that the volunteer was also working for.
As long as the volunteer retired attorneys are willing to observe the same ethical limitations placed upon their activities as salaried judicial staff attorneys, then the Inquiring Judge’s circuit may use these volunteer attorneys as judicial staff attorneys.
This opinion does not address the substantive law pertaining to employment of volunteers by the judiciary. See §110.501 et. seq., Fla. Stat. (2008).