February 24, 2020
This responds to your inquiry (20-19) asking about your ethical obligations in matters before you involving a social services agency that employs your first-degree relative. You indicate that you handle many abuse and neglect matters in which the Department of Social Services refers litigants for various social service agencies as part of their Family Court disposition. However, you “do not exercise discretion in choosing these services.” Your first-degree relative has accepted an entry-level position with an agency that provides particular therapy services. Thus, it is possible that your relative could work with litigants who were referred to his/her employer as part of their disposition. You also indicate that service providers “rarely testify in Court and, if they do, it is only to confirm whether or not the litigant complied with services.”
The Committee has previously advised, under similar circumstances, that a judge is disqualified, subject to remittal, from any cases when the judge’s first-degree relative has been personally involved. However, the judge may preside in other matters involving litigants who receive services from the agency where the first-degree relative is employed, provided the relative was not involved in the matter. We further advised that if the judge is satisfied that the agency has an effective procedure to insulate the relative from any cases that may come before the judge, he/she may rely on that insulation and need not disclose or inquire. Finally, disclosure of the relative’s employment before the agency makes a referral is not required.
Enclosed, for your convenience, is Opinion 16-28 which addresses these issues.
Very truly yours,
George D. Marlow, Assoc. Justice (Ret.)
Appellate Div., First Dep’t
Margaret T. Walsh
Supreme Court Justice