New York State Bar Association
appearance, legal fees, judges, partnership, salary
Committee on Professional Ethics
Opinion #210 – 11/22/1971 (41-71)
Topic: Sharing salary by part-time judge.
Digest: Town justice may not share his salary with his law partners.
Judicial Canons: 4, 13, 31
May an attorney who is a partner in a law firm share his salary from the office of part-time town justice with his law partners?
Neither a town justice nor any other part-time judicial officer may share his judicial salary with his law partners. The independence of the judiciary both in act and deed must be unquestioned. To permit others to share in a judge’s salary would tend to destroy such necessary and unqualified independence. Judicial Canon 4 provides in pertinent part: “A judge’s official conduct should be from impropriety and the appearance of impropriety… and his personal behavior, not only upon the bench and his performance of judicial duties, but also in his everyday life, should be beyond reproach.” Judicial Canon 13 provides in pertinent part: “A judge….should not suffer his conduct to justify the impression that any person can improperly influence him or unduly enjoy his favor.” Judicial Canon 31 provided that in cases where a judge is permitted to engage in private law practice, “one who practices law is in a position of great delicacy and must be scrupulously careful to avoid conduct in his practice whereby he utilizes or seems to utilize his judicial position to further his professional success.”
The public must be assured that incumbent judges, whether they serve full or part-time do not and of equal importance, do not appear to, engage in improper conduct. Unless the judiciary has the confidence of the public, the high esteem in which the Bench should be held will be tarnished beyond recall. The sharing of a judge’s salary would expose the judge to at least the suspicion that those whom he shares it could influence his conduct as a judge. We find no contravening interest which would permit part-time members of the judiciary to share their salaries with members of their law firms.