May 7, 1992
Digest: A judge is not disqualified where a litigant is represented by an attorney who owns corporate stock in a title insurance company which employs the judge's spouse.
Rules: 22 NYCRR §§100.2; 100.3(c)(iii).
The partners of a large law firm are the owners of the corporate stock of a title insurance company which employs the spouse of a judge. That firm represents litigants in the judge's court and the judge inquires whether the judge should disqualify himself or herself from hearing cases in which attorneys from that law firm appear.
Section 100.2 of the Rules of the Chief Administrator provides that a judge should "conduct himself or herself at all times in a manner that promotes public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the Judiciary." Commentary 3.26 of the proposed New York State Bar Association's Code of Judicial Conduct, based upon the ABA's Model Code, provides that "the fact that a lawyer in a proceeding is affiliated with a law firm with which a relative of the judge is affiliated does not of itself disqualify the judge."
Here, neither the litigant nor the attorney representing the litigant employs the judge's spouse. Thus, neither the judge nor the spouse have a financial interest in the matter in controversy and are not parties to the proceeding so as to require disqualification or disclosure under section 100.3(c)(iii). Moreover, the relationship is sufficiently tenuous, so as not to give the appearance of partiality. Thus, unless the judge believes that the relationship between the law firm and spouse may affect the judge's performance, disqualification is not required.