March 4, 2021
This responds to your inquiry (21-06) asking if you may preside in matters involving an attorney who is the sibling of your close personal friend. On the facts presented, we understand you and this attorney are mere acquaintances within the meaning of our Opinion 11-125.
A judge must not allow family, social, political or other relationships to influence the judge’s judicial conduct or judgment (see 22 NYCRR 100.2[B]), and must disqualify in any proceeding in which the judge’s impartiality “might reasonably be questioned” (see 22 NYCRR 100.3[E]), including in specific circumstances required by rule or law.
In general, a judge is in the best position to assess whether their impartiality might reasonably be questioned in matters involving an attorney the judge knows socially (see Opinion 11-125). However, even where judge determines that their friendship with one individual requires disclosure or disqualification, that obligation does not automatically extend to the friend’s colleagues or relatives, including siblings (see Opinion 15-185).
Accordingly, if you determine that your relationship with the attorney is, as it appears to be, “an acquaintance relationship where the judge and attorney mainly see each other in unplanned environments or when socializing with mutual friends” (Opinion 15-45), then neither disclosure nor disqualification is required. However, you should make reasonable efforts to avoid private social activity with the attorney on actual trial days.
Enclosed for your reference are Opinions 15-185; 15-45; and 11-125.
Very truly yours,
Margaret T. Walsh Supreme Court Justice
Acting Supreme Court Justice