Thursday, January 26, 2012
The Florida Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee has recently opined:
Whether a county judge whose child works in the state attorney’s office in the same county is automatically disqualified in all criminal cases?
ANSWER: No, but the parties should be informed that the child works for the state attorney.
The inquiring county judge is assigned to a trial division and routinely presides over felony and misdemeanor jury trials.
The inquiring judge’s child will soon graduate from law school and seek employment in the same county with the state attorney’s office. The inquiring judge acknowledges that “[the child] could not and would not handle any cases assigned to my division.” But the inquiring judge asks whether this family relationship would disqualify the inquiring judge from presiding over any and all criminal cases.
A minority of the Committee agrees that disqualification is not required solely because the child of a judge is employed by the state attorney’s office but does not agree that a bright line rule requiring disclosure is necessary. It would be more appropriate to advise the judge that the judge should disclose the judge’s relationship if the judge believes that the parties or their lawyers may consider the circumstances of the employment relevant to the issue of disqualification. This is consistent with the Commentary to Canon 3 E (1). The judge should be aware of any unique circumstance that may be relevant to the issue of disqualification. This Committee has just opined that the mere fact of employment, without more, is not sufficient for disqualification and, therefore, may not be relevant to the issue.