November 10, 2009
This responds to your inquiry (09-163) in which you ask whether you may continue to represent family members of police officers employed by a police department that appears in your court. In particular, you describe a client who is a mortgage broker and also a local police officer’s step-parent whom you have represented in the past in various real estate transactions. You also ask whether you may continue to represent a lender you have represented in the past if a police officer who may or does appear before you seeks to borrow money from the lender.
Whether you may continue to represent a particular client in your private practice is a question of professional ethics, not judicial ethics. Therefore, the Committee assumes that your first question relates to your ethical obligations as a judge when a police officer employed by a police agency, that also employs a police officer who is related to your client, appears before you. Similarly, the Committee assumes that your second question relates to your ethical obligations as a judge when a police officer representing a police agency, that also employs a police officer who has applied for a loan from a lender you represent in your private practice, appears before you.
In either circumstance, it is the Committee’s view that you are not required to disclose that you represent either client when a police officer who is neither your client’s relative nor your client’s borrower appears before you. However, depending on the specific facts presented, disclosure or disqualification may be required when a police officer, who is your client’s relative or your client’s borrower, will appear in your court in a case unrelated to your client’s case. Therefore, if you know or if you inadvertently learn, that the latter circumstance will occur, the Committee suggests that you write for a formal opinion or seek informal guidance to determine if disclosure or disqualification is required.