July 26, 2010
The South Carolina Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee opines on the following question:
A circuit court judge inquires into the propriety of presiding in a civil case under the following circumstances. Lawyer A has a case pending before the judge. The judge’s spouse is a lawyer who is involved in a case (that is not pending before the judge) with the partner of Lawyer A. In that case, Lawyer A’s partner and the judge’s husband are working in concert and have a fee-sharing arrangement. One of the parties in Lawyer A’s case that is pending before the judge has questioned whether it is proper for the judge to preside, suggesting that the judge will benefit financially from Lawyer A’s firm by way of the fee-sharing arrangement between Lawyer A’s partner and the judge’s spouse in the other case. The judge inquires as to whether there is an appearance of impropriety that would require disqualification from Lawyer A’s case.
The committee's opinion:
Here, it does not appear that the judge’s spouse has a interest in Lawyer A’s firm that could be affected by the proceeding before the judge. The judge’s spouse is merely co-counsel with a member of that firm on another matter. Thus, as in many situation, the judge must use his or her discretion in determining if there is any other appearance of impropriety that would require the judge to recuse himself or herself.
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