October 24, 1989
Digest: A town justice need not disqualify himself or herself in a case where one party’s attorney is an associate in the law firm of the town supervisor, who is responsible for fixing the town justice’s salary, provided that the town supervisor has no interest in this case.
Rules: 22 NYCRR 100.2(a) ; Canon 3C of the Code of Judicial Conduct.
A town justice inquires whether it is proper to hear a small claims case where one party’s attorney is an associate in the law firm in which the town supervisor is a partner. The town supervisor participates in setting the town justice’s salary.
Canon 3C of the Code of Judicial Conduct provides that, “a judge should disqualify himself in a proceeding in which his impartiality might reasonably be questioned”. Section 100.2(a) of the Rules of the Chief Administrator states that a judge shall “conduct himself or herself at all times in a manner that promotes public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary”.
Here, there would be an appearance of impropriety if the town supervisor had any interest in the case, financial or otherwise, as attorney or litigant, and in that instance, the judge should disqualify himself or herself on objection by the other side. However, if the town supervisor has no personal interest in the case before the judge, but an associate in the supervisor’s law firm is representing one party, it is in the judge’s discretion whether to disqualify himself or herself, but the judge is under no ethical obligation to do so.