Assistant Clerk has two adult children police officers in clerk's jurisdiction

May 14, 2007

Opinion 2007-3

Dear Clerk-Magistrate:  

This is in response to your letter dated February 28, 2007. The relevant facts you provided follow. You are the Clerk Magistrate of the ________ District Court. You recently promoted to the position of Assistant Clerk an employee with two adult children who are ______ Police Officers. These officers do not reside with their mother. The ______ District Court covers _____________. As a manager you request an advisory opinion as to what limitations you should impose on this Assistant Clerk's duties because two of her children serve as police officers for a community within the jurisdiction of the _________ District Court.

Although your request is from a manager perspective, there are two opinions that control this inquiry. See Opinions 2003-10 and 2006-5 . In these two opinions we advised that Clerks limit adjudicatory duties on the criminal side of the court when they have a close familial relationship with a police officer serving in a community that is within the jurisdiction of the court. In our view, with respect to appropriate limitations on assignments, the relationship of mother and child is not distinguishable from the spousal and in-law relationships at issue in the earlier opinions. The citizens that the justice system serves might reasonably question the impartiality of an Assistant Clerk who has children who are police officers, believing that the Assistant Clerk would be more inclined to accept the testimony of police officers over other witnesses. The Code of Professional Responsibility for Clerks of the Courts has at its core a goal to protect and preserve public confidence in the integrity, impartiality and independence of the Courts.(Canons 4 and 5) As stated in Opinion 2003-10 : " The principles of impartiality that underlie all the Canons, and Canons 4 and 5 in particular, are directed to both actual and perceived impartiality".  

Following these principles, it is the opinion of this Committee that you should not assign the Assistant Clerk to any criminal or other matters arising from or involving the City of _________ Police Department. We think that the impartiality of the Assistant Clerk reasonably may be questioned in all proceedings involving the ________ Police Department. This prohibition would cover the full range of adjudicative functions performed by a Clerk Magistrate with respect to these matters. Depending on the circumstances, limitations on the Assistant Clerk's ability to work on matters may extend to cases arising from or involving Police Departments in the other towns within the jurisdiction of the ______s District Court. We believe it would be also inappropriate for you to assign the Assistant Clerk duties in any matter in which her children have played a role, whether it arises from their work in the ________ Police Department or assistance to another Police Department. As stated in Opinion 2003-10 "[t]his result is necessary if the appearance of impartiality, essential to the public's trust and confidence in the justice system, is to be preserved."