February 24, 2020
This responds to your inquiry (19-161) asking what your ethical obligations are regarding the city prosecutor when he/she appears before you, given the friendship between your children. You indicate that although your children are schoolmates and have a relationship outside of school, you and the city prosecutor have no interaction other than scheduling visits for your children to see each other.
A judge’s ethical obligation based on a social relationship with an attorney depends on the facts of each case. In Opinion 11-125, the Committee defined three broad categories of relationship between judges and attorneys to assist judges in assessing the relationship in order to determine their ethical obligations. In addition, we advised that each judge “is ordinarily in the best position to assess whether his/her impartiality might reasonably be questioned” based on the level of relationship with the attorney (Opinion 11-125).
Generally, where a judge is simply acquainted with an attorney in situations that are unplanned or coincidental or where, as here, the interaction is merely to schedule play time for young children and to arrange pick up and drop off times, neither disclosure nor disqualification is required.
Given these facts and the absence of any other extra-judicial relationship or other disqualifying factor between you and this attorney, you may preside as long as you believe you can be fair and impartial. Disclosure is entirely within your discretion.
Enclosed, for your convenience, are Opinions 18-102; 14-59; 11-125 which address this issue.
Very truly yours,
George D. Marlow, Assoc. Justice (Ret.)
Appellate Div., First Dep’t
Margaret T. Walsh
Supreme Court Justice