Opinion  CJE Opinion No. 2000-8

Date: 10/03/2000
Organization: Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court

After the Committee on Judicial Ethics issued this opinion, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court adopted a revised Code of Judicial Conduct. Because this opinion was rendered under a prior version of the Code, a judge should not rely on it without contacting the Committee on Judicial Ethics.

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Committee on Judicial Ethics

Table of Contents

Hiring Court Employees

You have requested an opinion of the Committee on Judicial Ethics regarding whether you may from time to time hire employees of the office of the Clerk Magistrate of the court to which you were appointed to act as your babysitters outside work hours.

From your letter, the Committee understands that before your appointment as a judge, you served as the Court's First Assistant Clerk. While there, you became friendly with a young colleague whom you hired from time to time to perform babysitting chores for you outside of working hours. Your family has become quite friendly with her and one of your daughters is to be the flower girl in her wedding next spring. A second employee of the Clerk's office has been babysitting for your children for the past several years as well. You have informed the Committee that you always paid both people for their babysitting work and both have felt free to tell you when they were otherwise engaged and thus could not perform the babysitting you requested. Historically, all of the babysitting has occurred outside of normal working hours and you intend to continue that practice.

No provision of the Code of Judicial Conduct speaks directly to the issue you have raised. Canon 2(B), however, provides in part that "[a] judge should not allow his family, social, or other relationships to influence his [or her] judicial conduct or judgment. He [or she] should not . . . convey or permit others to convey the impression that they are in a special position to influence him [or her]." Likewise, Canon 3(B)(1) provides that "a judge should . . . maintain professional competence in judicial administration, and facilitate the performance of the administrative responsibilities of other judges and court officials."

Hiring an employee of the clerk's office to perform paid personal chores outside of working hours does not, in and of itself, violate either Canon. On the facts you have presented to the Committee, there is little likelihood that hiring such employees will affect your judicial decisions or create the impression that your decisions are affected. Because the individuals whom you contemplate hiring are not your employees and because you have no direct control over their salaries or advancement, employing them as your babysitter is unlikely to create the impression among observers that they are in a position to influence your personnel decisions. In and of itself, outside employment of the individuals has no necessary impact on their performance of their administrative responsibilities.

Having said that, the Committee would be remiss if it failed to observe that hiring "subordinate" workplace colleagues to perform personal chores always creates the possibility either that the extra-professional relationship will exert some tug on your professional decision-making or will create the appearance among co-workers that it has done so. Moreover, regardless of the strength of personal friendships or the degree to which a personal relationship appears to embrace the freedom to say "no," times inevitably arise when it is difficult for a "subordinate" to say "no" or when the "subordinate" will have serious questions about the professional cost of doing so. Either result may well affect the employee's discharge of professional or administrative responsibilities. Thus, although hiring the two employees in and of itself and on the facts you have presented to the Committee, does not violate the Code of Judicial Conduct, it sets the stage for, and creates the possibility of, future violations that would not exist if you hired others to perform those chores.

In responding to your request, the Committee has focused solely on the Code of Judicial Conduct and has not considered whether hiring those individuals as babysitters would violate any provisions of G. L. c. 268A.

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