Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Judge May Receive Fees For Legal Work

From the Florida Judicial Ethics Advisory Commission:

Opinion Number: 2009-09
Date of Issue: May 13, 2009

ISSUE

Whether a recently appointed judge may receive a fee for legal work performed prior to taking office.

ANSWER: Yes.

FACTS

Prior to taking office, the inquiring judge represented several clients on a contingency fee or partial contingency fee basis where a judgment was obtained but never satisfied.  The judge inquires as to whether a fee may properly be received for legal work performed prior to appointment if payment is made on any of these currently unsatisfied judgments.

DISCUSSION

This Committee has consistently opined that a judge may collect a fee on legal work performed prior to assuming the bench, as long as the computation of the fee is based on traditional standards.  See Fla. JEAC Ops. 06-01, 97-9, 94-7, 91-8, and 89-1.  As long as the fee is properly calculated based upon legal services the judge performed on behalf of the client prior to assuming the bench, and the applicable requirements of The Florida Bar Rules of Professional Conduct are satisfied, no impropriety appears, and the judge may collect a fee.  However, the judge may not provide legal assistance to a former client with regard to seeking satisfaction of a judgment.  See Canon 5G of the Code of Judicial Conduct ("A judge shall not practice law."); see also JEAC Op. 05-19 (judge may not discuss former clients' cases with their new lawyers except as to matters which would not constitute the practice of law).

(Mike Frisch)

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