November 16, 2012
This responds to your inquiry (12-151) asking what your ethics obligations are when a member of your golf club or members of his/her firm appear before you. As members of the same club, you attend the same competitions and functions fewer than ten times a year. And, aside from the occasional Bar Association function, you do not otherwise socialize together.
In Opinion 11-125, the Committee discussed in detail a judge’s ethical obligations when attorneys with whom the judge has a social relationship appear in the judge’s court. As the Committee noted, human relationships are varied, fact dependent and unique to the individuals involved, and therefore, “the Committee can provide only general guidelines to assist judges who ultimately must determine the nature of their own specific relationships with particular attorneys and their ethical obligations resulting from those relationships.”
Nevertheless, based on the specific facts you describe in your inquiry, the Committee views the relationship between you and the attorney who is a member of your golf club as that of acquaintances. Accordingly, neither disqualification nor disclosure is required either when the attorney/club member appears or when his/her partners or associates appear, as long as you believe you can be fair and impartial (see Opinions 12-85[B]; 11-125). Any such disqualification or disclosure decisions are solely within your discretion (see id.).
Enclosed, for your convenience, are Opinions 12-85(B) and 11-125 which address this issue.
Very truly yours,
George D. Marlow, Assoc. Justice
Appellate Division, First Dept. (Ret.)