Metropolitan News-Enterprise


Wednesday, August 30, 2023


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California Supreme Court Ethics Committee:

Judicial Officer Generally May Not Attend Law Firm’s Event With Free Food, Drinks


By a MetNews Staff Writer


A judicial officer generally may not attend a for-profit law firm’s social event at which free food and drinks will be served, the California Supreme Court’s Committee on Judicial Ethics Opinions advised yesterday in a final opinion.

A draft of that opinion was released on May 25, with comments due on July 10.

The event about which a judicial officer had inquired was a law form’s 50th anniversary celebration. The committee counseled: Don’t go, unless your relationship with the firm is such that you would have to recuse yourself if one of the firm’s cases came before you or some other exception applies.

It said:

“A judicial officer is advised not to attend a law firm’s 50th anniversary celebration  where complimentary food and beverages will be served. A judicial officer’s presence 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 convey the impression that  the law firm is in a position to influence the judicial officer’s judicial decisions. In  addition, the judicial officer’s attendance at such an event may improperly lend judicial  prestige to advance the law firm’s interests by suggesting that the law firm is favored or  endorsed by the judiciary. Finally, because law firm celebrations are primarily for the  purpose of business development, the complimentary food and beverages served at such  events are gifts for which no exception to the general prohibition against accepting gifts  applies.”

With respect to an exception for a “preexisting relationship warranting disqualification,” the committee cautioned that “even in such cases, judicial officers are advised to ensure that the law firm does not use the judicial officer’s position to improperly lend prestige to the law firm, for example, by introducing the judicial officer by title as a special guest in the presence of clients.”

The committee added:

“The committee understands that there will be other circumstances under which it  may be appropriate for a judge to accept an invitation to a celebratory event hosted by a  law firm — for example, a retirement party or memorial service for a well-known  member of the legal community, given that such an event is not business oriented, and  the judge’s attendance would not necessarily be indicative of impartiality or lending prestige to the law firm that hosts. This may be particularly true where many members of the legal community—judges and non-judges alike—are invited. The committee imply advises that judges evaluate their ethical obligations in connection with attending such an event.”

It set forth in a footnote:

“Attending a law firm celebration is distinguishable from attending a bar association or legal education event sponsored by law firms. Such activities do not generally undermine judicial impartiality, and a specific exception to the gift prohibition applies….In recent years, law firms have increasingly hosted law student mixers and events to promote diversity in the legal profession. When deciding whether to attend such events, judicial officers are advised to consider whether the event appears to promote a particular law firm or whether it is geared to improvement of the law and legal system in general.”

The opinion is CJEO Formal Opinion 2023-024.


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