June 9, 2006
Digest: Where the relationship between a lawyer-judge and the law firm in which he/she had been a partner is severed, there is no longer a basis for requiring another judge on the same court to disqualify that law firm.
Rule: 22 NYCRR 100.6(B)(3).
The inquiring part-time lawyer-judge has disqualified a law firm from representing a party in a matter before the judge, because a part-time judge in the court where the inquirer presides was a partner in that firm. The inquiring judge has now been notified that the partner in question is severing his/her ties with the firm. As a result, the judge asks whether the severance of the relationship removes the firm’s disqualification from representing parties in the court where the former partner sits. Further, the judge asks whether it is “permissible for the law firm to represent the party in the pending case, even though the case was filed during a time when the law firm was disqualified.”
In the opinion of the Committee, both questions should be answered affirmatively. That is, the basis for the disqualification under section 100.6(B)(3) of the Rules Governing Judicial Conduct (requiring a part-time judge to disqualify the partners and associates of a law firm of that judge or of another judge of the same court) no longer exists. There is, therefore, no foundation for continuing to bar the law firm from appearing before that court.
Moreover, the fact that the firm was originally disqualified in a particular case does not mean that it must remain so. Disqualification under section 100.6(B)(3) of the Rules is not intended as a punishment or sanction. Its purpose is to avoid the appearance of possible favoritism or undue influence that results where a judge or his or her law firm is permitted to practice in the same court where the judge presides. Because that danger has now been eliminated, we see no basis for requiring the continued disqualification of the law firm.