December 5, 1989
Digest: A newly-elected judge may collect legal fees earned prior to assuming the office, and may work out any fair arrangement with his former law firm to handle the bookkeeping expenses.
Rules: 22 NYCRR 100.2(a); 100.5(c)(1) and 2
A newly elected full-time judge who has not yet taken office inquires about the procedures for receiving fees for legal services rendered prior to taking office. The contemplated procedure will be for an associate in the office to continue the judge’s law practice and to forward pre-earned legal fees to the judge. The judge wishes to retain his own checking account to receive the fees and to pay out his portion of the law firm’s bookkeeping expenses. The judge inquires whether it is permissible to merely cross out the words “Attorney-at-Law” on the old checks.
While a judge must avoid impropriety and the appearance of impropriety, there is no prohibition against a judge collecting legal fees which were earned before leaving practice. (See Advisory Opinion 88-118.) As for bookkeeping , the judge may either reimburse the law firm for its bookkeeping expenses on his behalf, or the firm may absorb the expense, so long as the arrangement is fair. The judge may retain a separate check book for receiving fees previously earned. Whether the words “Attorney-at-Law” are merely crossed out or new checks are ordered is at the judge’s discretion.
The Judge-elect further asks for general guidelines on handling the transition. Beside the Code (Canons) of Judicial Ethics and the Rules of the Chief Administrator (22 NYCRR Part 100), the Judge-elect may wish to consider the Advisory Committee’s Opinions numbers 88-118, 89-38, 89-67 and 89-108.