California Ethics Group tells judges not to engage with lawyers

California judges are required to refrain from attending law firm celebrations at firm offices with complimentary food and beverages under a draft ethics notice for comment.

The draft opinion from the California Supreme Court Judicial Ethics Opinion Committee follows a request about whether a judicial officer could attend a 50th anniversary celebration.

“The presence of a judicial officer at such an event may suggest that the judicial officer has a special relationship with the law firm, which may undermine the impartiality of the judiciary or give the impression that the law firm is in a position to influence in the judicial decision of the judicial officer. decisions,” the draft said.

“In addition, the judicial officer’s attendance at such an event may confer inappropriate judicial prestige to advance the interests of the law firm by suggesting that the law firm is favored or endorsed by the judiciary,” the draft says. “Finally, because law firm celebrations are primarily for business development purposes, complimentary food and beverages served at such events are gifts for which no exception to the general prohibition on accepting gifts applies. ”.

The opinion comes amid a statewide reckoning stemming from revelations that the now-disbarred attorney for the celebrity plaintiffs, Thomas Girardi, ignored hundreds of complaints over decades, including allegations that he stole to the clients. Girardi cultivated longtime friends throughout the state and the legal system.

“Every year, he hosted multiple lavish parties attended by politicians, judges, prominent attorneys, prosecutors, and employees and officials of the State Bar Association,” said a report to the State Bar of California following a 16-year investigation. Many federal and state judges and other prominent attorneys from major law firms would attend the parties, according to the report.

“Multiple witnesses talked about how judges and other prominent lawyers or politicians at these events would rave about how highly they thought of Girardi,” he said.

Consider the context

Judges are often invited to events hosted by companies. They must first consider whether attending will compromise public confidence in the impartiality of the judiciary or suggest that the law firm is in a special position to influence the judicial officer, according to the draft.

In a footnote, the draft said that attending a law firm celebration “is distinguished from attending a bar association or legal education event sponsored by law firms. Such activities generally do not undermine judicial impartiality, and a specific exception to the prohibition on gifts applies.”

Judges may accept gifts of nominal value. A judge and/or members of the judge’s family residing in the household may only accept “if the gift, bequest, favor or loan would not reasonably influence or be perceived as intended to influence the judge in the performance of his or her judicial duties ” under the judicial canons.

The bill suggests exceptions to the general rule for functions hosted by attorneys that have no business purpose, such as a memorial service for a deceased attorney, a law firm celebration of an adult child or spouse because the judicial officer has already you would be disqualified from hearing matters relating to the law firm and exceptions to the gift ban apply. And there is no ban on attending law firm sponsored bar association events.

Comments on the draft are due by July 10.