May 23, 2007
Note: Opinion 15-51 advises that, "once the two-year period elapses, it should be within the judge’s discretion whether to disclose that the judge or his/her former law firm colleagues represented a client who is currently before the judge as a litigant." The present opinion has been modified to the extent inconsistent with this view (see Opinion 15-51). Please see Opinion 15-51 for factors to consider in exercising this discretion.
This responds to your inquiry as to the propriety of commencing each court session by asking litigants to disclose whether they are a current or former client of the partners or associates of your law firm. You express concern because your law firm has represented numerous clients whom you may not know or recognize, and you might inadvertently preside over a matter from which you should have disqualified yourself. You further inquire whether there is a specified period of time after which the former attorney-client relationship is no longer applicable.
Enclosed are copies of Opinions 97-85 and 92-01 for your reference and consideration. These opinions state that a part-time lawyer-judge should recuse himself/herself, subject to remittal of disqualification, when a party before the judge has been a client of the judge or the judge's law firm within the preceding two years. If more than two years have elapsed, and in the absence of meritorious objection, the judge may preside after full disclosure on the record. Opinions 97-85 (Vol. XVI); 92-01 (Vol. IX); 22 NYCRR 100.3(E); 100.3(F).
Regarding your proposal to commence each court session by asking litigants to disclose whether they are a current or former client of your law firm, while this procedure is not mandated, nothing in the Rules Governing Judicial Conduct prohibits you from implementing such an initiative.