September 14, 1993
Digest: A full-time judge is not required to disqualify himself or herself from cases handled by attorneys who previously had represented a class-action group which included the judge’s spouse.
Rules: 22 NYCRR 100.3 ( c )
A full-time judge inquires whether the judge must disqualify himself or herself from matters handled by the attorneys who represented the judge’s spouse in a class-action suit, which has concluded, and if so, for how long.
Several years ago, the inquiring judge’s spouse was a plaintiff in a class action discrimination suit brought against an educational institution. The suit thereafter was settled and the judge’s spouse received a minimal cash distribution in late 1992 or early 1993. The attorneys no longer represent the group or the judge’s spouse. During pendency of the action the judge disqualified himself or herself in all cases where the attorneys representing the group in the class action appeared.
The relationship of the attorneys in the class action with the inquiring judge’s spouse was only as part of a class group and not a personal attorney-client relationship in the usual sense. In effect, the attorneys’ responsibility was to the group, and not to each member individually. Therefore, there is no appearance of impropriety where the group’s attorneys appear in the judge’s court especially since the class action was settled several years ago. Nor is there any indication the judge’s impartiality might be reasonably questioned as the result of the group’s action. Moreover, the inquiring judge’s spouse did not retain those attorneys.
It is the opinion of this Committee that the judge need not disqualify himself or herself from matters handled by the former group’s attorneys.