May 5, 2022
Digest: Where a judge’s college student grandchild was previously a paid temporary clerical intern for the summer at a local law firm, with only clerical duties, the judge has no obligation to disclose or disqualify in matters involving the law firm after the internship ends.
Rules: 22 NYCRR 100.2; 100.2(A); 100.2(B); 100.3(E)(1); 100.3(E)(1)(d)(iii); 100.3(F); Opinions 11-94; 06-111.
A full-time judge’s non-lawyer grandchild, a college student, expects to work for a local law firm as a paid temporary clerical intern during the summer. The judge will not hear any cases involving the law firm during the internship, but asks if it is necessary to disqualify in matters involving this law firm after the internship ends.1
A judge must avoid impropriety and the appearance of impropriety in all the judge’s activities (see 22 NYCRR 100.2) and must act at all times in a manner that promotes public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary (see 22 NYCRR 100.2[A]). In particular, 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]). Therefore, a judge must disqualify from any proceeding in which the judge’s impartiality “might reasonably be questioned” (22 NYCRR 100.3[E]), including where the judge knows that a sixth-degree relative “has an interest that could be substantially affected by the proceeding” (22 NYCRR 100.3[E][d][iii]) or that a fourth-degree relative “is acting as a lawyer in the proceeding or is likely to be a material witness in the proceeding” (22 NYCRR 100.3[E][e]).
We have previously considered the effect of a judge’s child’s temporary employment as a law student intern or summer associate with a law firm. We determined that where the judge’s child completes the summer associate program and does not contemplate future full-time employment with that firm after law school graduation, the judge’s obligations depend on whether the judge’s child was involved in the particular case before the judge. If so, the judge is disqualified in the matter, subject to remittal where available (see Opinion 11-94; 22 NYCRR 100.3[F]). We explained in a footnote that “the judge may rely on his/her child to inform him/her of the cases in which the child was involved, without further inquiry,” unless the judge learns otherwise “during the normal course of a proceeding” (Opinion 11-94 fn 2). In other cases involving that law firm, where the judge’s child had no involvement, the judge need not disqualify or disclose the child’s former association with the law firm as a summer associate (id.).
However, we have not previously considered a judge’s obligations when the judge’s child or grandchild has an internship with a law firm as an undergraduate, doing clerical work.2
Where a judge’s child or grandchild is a law student, it makes sense to consider whether the judge’s relative “was involved in the case” even after the internship ends (Opinion 11-94). That is because a law student’s involvement at a law office as an intern or summer associate is likely to involve performing legal research or analysis and/or discussing substantive issues in the case. Here, by contrast, the judge’s grandchild is a college student, and the internship involves only clerical duties. The nature of the judge’s grandchild’s involvement in particular litigations will necessarily be more superficial. Neither the employer nor the public is likely to perceive an undergraduate clerical intern as “acting as a lawyer” (22 NYCRR 100.3[E][e]) or otherwise substantively participating in the representation. Accordingly, where the judge’s grandchild’s internship involves only clerical duties, we conclude the judge has no obligation to disclose or disqualify once the internship ends. Thus, the judge may preside if the judge can be fair and impartial.
1 Since the judge has already decided not to hear any cases involving the law firm during the grandchild’s internship, we consider only the judge’s obligations once the grandchild’s temporary clerical employment with the law firm ends.
2 A judge’s child or stepchild is a first-degree relative, while a grandchild or step-grandchild is a second-degree relative. We have recognized the second degree of relationship as an “intimate and significant family connection” when analyzing conflicts (Opinion 06-111).