Wednesday, November 3, 2021

Family Ties

A recent opinion of the South Carolina Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee notes inconsistency in prior opinions concerning judicial disqualification where a familial relationship with a law enforcement officer.


An Associate Municipal judge is married to a lieutenant in the Department of Public Safety (DPS) for a local university. The City has concurrent jurisdiction with the County over the university property. The judge’s spouse is a Watch Commander for the night shift and the Field Training Manager of the university’s DPS. The judge inquires as to the propriety of adjudicating cases that arise from the university’s DPS.

Prior advice

This Committee has struggled with the issue of relationships between judges and persons in law enforcement, and as a result, previous opinions are inconsistent.


Obviously, a judge’s familial or other relationship with persons in law enforcement creates a thorny issue. In this case, the judge is married to a lieutenant for the university’s DPS. The City and the County have concurrent jurisdiction over charges arising from the DPS. Because the judge’s spouse is not the Chief or Director of the DPS, persons that appear on behalf of the DPS in magistrate court proceedings would not be the spouse’s employees. However, the employees may have been trained by the judge’s spouse as the spouse serves as Field Training Manager for the university’s DPS. Clearly, the judge should not preside if the judge’s spouse appears as a material witness in a proceeding. In other proceedings arising from the university DPS, the judge should disclose on the record the spouse’s role with DPS, thereby providing a chance for the parties to request recusal.

(Mike Frisch)

Judicial Ethics and the Courts | Permalink


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