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Judges haven't been particularly pleased with the fact that they haven't received a pay increase since 1999 and a number of them have announced that they would refuse to participate in any case involving a State Legislator's law firm.

On February 22, 2007, the Advisory Committee on Judicial Ethics issued an opinion in response to the following inquiry submitted by an unnamed administrative judge:

I am writing to you because I have had inquiries from a number of judges who have had other judges suggest that they recuse themselves, where a State Legislator or a member of his or her law firm appears before them, in light of the long standing issue of judicial salary increases presently before the Legislature. These judges do not want to consider recusing themselves unless it is ethical to do so in that situation. I respectfully ask for guidance from the Advisory Committee whether such recusals would be consistent with the Chief Administrator's Rules Governing Judicial Conduct were these judges to accede to these suggestions.

Surprisingly, the Committee concluded that the pay-increase issue would not, in and of itself, be a sufficient basis upon which a judge could base a withdrawal. As the Committee wrote:

In our view, while conceivably there may be other factors or circumstances present when a State Legislator appears, the sole additional factor specified in the inquiry before us does not suffice to justify recusal, and, indeed, recusals on the stated basis would not be proper. The judges referred to in the inquiry are willing to preside. Presumably, that means they believe they can be fair and impartial when an attorney who happens to be a Legislator appears on behalf of a client. If so, then exercising recusal solely because the longstanding issue of judicial salary increases is currently before the Legislature would be improper. For it is not, in our opinion, a circumstance which, in and of itself, gives rise to the conclusion that "the judge's impartiality might reasonably be questioned" (22 NYCRR 100.3[E][1]) when a State Legislator (or his or her law firm) appears before the judge as attorney.

They've got to be kidding!

If judges are harboring any resentment or anger against a litigant's counsel (or question their own ability to remain "impartial" as a result of some extraneous factor, such as the Legislature's inaction over judicial pay raises), why even suggest that it is appropriate for those jurists to retain control over a matter?

We fail to see how justice is furthered (of the role of  the judiciary enhanced) if there are questions as to a judge's underlying motivation. Jurists should be encouraged to withdraw from matters, if and when they feel their impartiality would be compromised in any meaningful way.

Other than the merits of a dispute, nothing should be permitted to influence the outcome of a case. Not politics. Not money. Nothing.

"Case closed!"

For a copy of the Committee's advisory opinion, please use this link: Opinion 07-25