Opinion  CJE Opinion No. 2016-05

Date: 05/02/2016
Organization: Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court

Letter Opinion of the Committee on Judicial Ethics

Table of Contents

Serving as a Master within Six Months of Retirement

You have sought an opinion concerning whether you may accept appointments to serve as a master within the Probate and Family Court within the first six months following your retirement from the state judiciary(1).

The Application section of the Code addresses when it applies to a retired judge. Comment [1] states in relevant part: "A judge who has retired or resigned from judicial office shall not, for a period of six months following the date of retirement . . . perform dispute resolution services with a court-connected program except on a pro bono publico basis, or enter an appearance, or accept an appointment to represent any party, in any court of the Commonwealth."

A master serves as a neutral arbiter. Mass. R. Civ. P. 53 and Mass. R. Dom. Rel. P. 53 define a master as a person "who is appointed by the court to hear evidence in connection with any action and report facts."(2)  You stated that as a master, your role and responsibilities may include such tasks as handling discovery disputes, managing the sale of real estate, or assisting parties to divide personal property. We believe that these activities constitute the performance of "dispute resolution services," or are so akin to such services, that the same restrictions apply. Therefore, during the six months following your retirement, you may serve as a master only on a pro bono basis.

In CJE 2016-3, we cautioned a judge returning to private practice that the judge must ensure that the judicial title is not used in the courtroom or in court papers. While the concerns that motivated that caution are inapplicable to appointment as a master, you must ensure that the parties are informed that you are retired from judicial office. Likewise, if you use the judicial title on any written reports, findings, or other documents that you prepare, you must indicate that you are retired.  

(1) This opinion relies on the facts you have provided to the Committee on Judicial Ethics. We have not undertaken an independent investigation of this information. If material facts have been omitted or misrepresented, this opinion is without force and effect.

(2) Appointments made pursuant to these rules must, of course, comply with the Code of Judicial Conduct. See Rule 2.13, Administrative Appointments.  

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