October 25, 2012
Law Of Stepniece Disqualification Explored
A recent opinion from the Florida Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee:ISSUES
1. If a judge’s stepniece is employed as an attorney with the Public Defender’s Office, is the judge’s disqualification required in all criminal cases in which a public defender is involved?
2. If a judge’s stepniece appears before the judge, is the judge per se disqualified pursuant to Canon 3E, Code of Judicial Conduct?
ANSWER: No. Disqualification may be required, however, depending upon the relationship between the judge and the stepniece.
3. Should the judge disclose that the judge’s stepniece is appearing before the judge as an attorney in a criminal case?
The inquiring judge currently presides over a criminal division, and attorneys with the Public Defender’s Office regularly appear before the judge. When the judge was a child, the judge’s mother remarried a person who, by a previous marriage, had a child (stepsister to the judge). The stepsister never lived with the judge, and the stepsister has a child (stepniece to the judge). The judge’s stepniece just passed the bar and is an attorney with the Public Defender’s Office. The inquiring judge has not advised this Committee of how close of a relationship the judge has with the stepniece. The judge’s stepfather is deceased.
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