Dear Model Code:

Can I play golf, have dinner, or vacation with lawyers that regularly appear before me in the courtroom? Quite a few of my friends are lawyers, so naturally we spend a lot of time together. What are the rules about this?

Sincerely,

Judge Buddy-Buddy

Dear Judge Buddy-Buddy,

You aren’t the only judge to run into this problem.

Clear communication between judges and lawyers is a staple of our legal system. However, depending on the situation, lawyer-judge communication can be inappropriate. We all know about the impermissibility of ex-parte communication related to a case.

You are absolutely allowed to have friends who are lawyers, but those friendships could prove problematic. Rule 2.1 states, “The duties of judicial office … shall take precedence over all of a judge’s personal and extrajudicial activities.”

Canon 3 commands you to conduct your personal and extrajudicial activities to “minimize the risk of conflict with the obligations of judicial office.” That means steering clear of activities that could “lead to frequent disqualification” (Rule 3.1A) or “would appear to a reasonable person to undermine (your) independence, integrity or impartiality” (Rule 3.1C).

In other words, you can’t afford to have too many friendships (or enmities) with lawyers who practice in your jurisdiction. It could necessitate frequent recusals.

Your BEFF (Best Ethical Friend Forever),

The Model Code of Judicial Conduct