June 18, 1999
A County Court judge may preside over matters involving the county's Support
Collection Unit where the sister-in-law of his or her law clerk is employed,
provided the judge believes that he or she can be impartial, discloses
the relationship to the parties, and insulates the law clerk from any involvement
in such matters.
22 NYCRR 100.3(E)(1);
Opinion 94-34 (Vol. XII).
A County Court judge inquires whether it is appropriate to review hearing examiner's objections in view of the fact that the sister-in-law of the judge's law clerk is employed by the county's Support Collection Unit. Additionally, the judge inquires about the propriety of presiding over other non-support matters as well as matters in other departments in which the county Department of Social Services is involved, and to the extent, if any, that the law clerk is to be insulated from such matters where the judge is presiding.
In our opinion, disqualification is not required under section 100.3(E)(1) of the Rules Governing Judicial Conduct, provided the judge believes that he or she is able to preside impartially over the matters in question. In Opinion 94-34 (Vol. XII), the Committee advised that a judge could preside over matters involving the local school district where a member of its board was the sister-in-law of the judge's law clerk, and also over matters involving the county legislature even though a member of that body was the husband of the judge's law clerk. That opinion required the judge to disclose the clerk's relationship and insulate the clerk from any involvement in such matters.
In short, the mere fact of the relationship in this particular instance does not mean that the proceeding is one "which the judge's impartiality might reasonably be questioned . . ." 22 NYCRR 100.3(E)(1). Thus, it is the opinion of the Committee that the judge need not disqualify him/herself in matters involving the county Support Collection Unit or any other departments of the county Department of Social Services, provided disclosure is made to the parties, the law clerk is insulated from involvement in those matters, and, of course, the judge believes that he or she can be impartial.