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Opinion Opinion 91-6

Date: 06/20/1991
Organization: Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court

Ethical Opinions for Clerks of the Courts

Renting of summer home to attorneys who appear in Clerk-Magistrate's court.

Dear Clerk:

In your letter of March 14, 1991 you request an advisory opinion by this Committee concerning whether you will be in violation of Canon 4(C) of the Code of Professional Responsibility if you rent a summer home owned by you and your wife to attorneys who may appear in your Court, and who may even appear in hearings over which you preside.

Following are the relevant facts you have given in your letter. You and your wife own a home in . Several attorneys who practice in the Court where you are employed are considering renting your home. Although you describe your job as being essentially administrative, you do preside over criminal show cause hearings and you do conduct arraignments. At these hearings it is possible that an attorney might appear who is interested in renting your home.

You pose three related questions as to whether you would violate Canon 4(C) by renting your summer home to attorneys who:

may appear in your Court;
regularly appear in your Court; but not in sessions over which you preside.
appear in sessions over which you preside.

After consideration of the above stated facts it is the Committee's opinion that you should not rent your summer home to attorneys who regularly appear in the Court. To do so would violate both Canon 4(C) and Canon 5(C) as it would tend to reflect adversely on your impartiality. Canon 5(C) specifically prohibits financial transactions by a Clerk Magistrate with lawyers or other persons likely to come before the Court in which the Clerk Magistrate is serving.

It is also important that you do not use your office to promote your real estate activities. Canon 4(C) prohibits a Clerk Magistrate from using the influence of the office to promote his or her business interests.

It is possible that you could rent your summer home to an attorney who does not regularly appear in the Housing Court. The Committee's opinion in this situation is that you should attempt to assure an arms length transaction by means such as the use of a real estate broker and by charging fair market prices.

If you rent your summer home to an attorney or other person who later appears before you, you should disclose to all involved in the hearing over which you are presiding the fact that you have rented your home to one of the attorneys/parties. Further, you should disqualify yourself if your "impartiality might reasonably be questioned". Please see Canon 4(E) on Disqualification.


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