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Connecticut Committee on Judicial Ethics
Informal Opinion Summaries

2014-13 (July 15, 2014)
Disclosure/Disqualification; Promoting Public Confidence; Appearance of Impropriety; Bias and Prejudice
Rules 1.2 & 2.11


Issue:  May a relatively new Judicial Official, who prior to his/her appointment served on a municipal police department’s firearm discharge and civilian complaint review board, (1) preside over cases involving arrests by the department, or cases in which officers from the department are witnesses, and (2) preside over ex parte proceedings, including probable cause determinations for warrants for the department?

Additional Facts: The Judicial Official is a social acquaintance of the municipal police chief and has socialized with the chief and his spouse in the recent past.

Response: Rule 1.2 of the Code of Judicial Conduct states that a “judge shall act at all times in a manner that promotes public confidence in the independence, integrity, and impartiality of the judiciary and shall avoid the appearance of impropriety. The test for appearance of impropriety is whether the conduct would create in reasonable minds a perception that the judge violated this Code or engaged in other conduct that reflects adversely on the judge’s honesty, impartiality, temperament, or fitness as a judge.”

Rule 2.11 states, in relevant part, as follows:

(a) A judge shall disqualify himself or herself in any proceeding in which the judge’s impartiality might reasonably be questioned including, but not limited to, the following circumstances:

(1) The judge has a personal bias or prejudice concerning a party or a party’s lawyer, or personal knowledge of facts that are in dispute in the proceeding.

Based on the facts presented, including the assumption that the police chief exercises supervisory control over all police department cases, the Committee unanimously determined that the Judicial Official should not preside: (1) over cases involving arrests by the municipal police department, or in cases in which officers from the department are witnesses, or (2) over ex parte proceedings, including probable cause hearings, involving the police department, for a reasonable period of time, which is not less than two years from the date of the Judicial Official’s commencement of service as a judge or the last social contact with the police chief, whichever occurs later. If the police chief’s last day as head of the department occurs prior to such time, then the two-year time period should be measured from the commencement of the judge’s service rather than the date of last social contact with the police chief. After such time, the Judicial Official may preside over such cases provided the Judicial Official does not believe that he or she has any personal bias (favorable or unfavorable) involving the police department and/or the police chief.

In reaching its opinion, the Committee considered JE 2011-20 (a Judicial Official, who has a family member who is a sworn member of a local police department, may preside over matters, including but not limited to ex parte warrant request, in which the police department or any other officers employed by the police department was a party or a witness, subject to certain conditions), JE 2011-06 (a Judicial Official, who has a personal relationship with the Attorney General, does not have a duty to automatically disqualify himself or herself when a member of the Attorney General’s Office appears; however, the Judicial Official has a duty to disclose his or her personal relationship), New York Advisory Opinion 89-88 (a part-time judge, who as an attorney, formerly represented a police officer in a real estate transaction, should disqualify himself or herself, for as long as the judge feels that he or she cannot be impartial, when the police officer seeks the judge’s signature on a warrant of arrest, or when the police officer appears as a witness in a proceeding before the judge), and New York Advisory Opinion 09-19 (a part-time lawyer judge who is a practicing attorney must disqualify him/herself in cases when a police sergeant currently represented by the judge’s law firm is called to testify before the judge. When other town police officers appear in the judge’s court, the judge should disqualify him/herself if judge learns that sergeant is involved in a supervisory capacity.)

Committee on Judicial Ethics

 

 

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