Legal Ethics

Judge Who Gave Lawyer Gag Sex Book Gets Reprimand for Delayed Recusal


Corrected: A New Mexico judge who was open to the possibility of romantic relationship with an assistant public defender to whom he gave a gag sex-book gift during a take-out lunch one Friday in a local park should have immediately recused himself from hearing her cases.

Because Bernalillo County District Judge Bob Schwartz delayed a few days in doing so and gave incorrect explanations, in court, for his reasons for not continuing to preside over two of her cases, he committed willful misconduct, the state supreme court says in a written opinion (PDF).

It, however, rejected a Judicial Standards Commission recommendation that Schwartz be suspended without pay for 60 days and instead ordered a public reprimand and fined him $6,000.

In addition to the lunch, Schwartz also asked the PD for her phone number and went to a concert with her the next day, where she had a couple of glasses of wine,

“We are not suggesting that a judge is prohibited from becoming romantically involved with an attorney,” the court writes. “But before initiating such a relationship, the judge must terminate any professional relationship by recusing from any cases in which an attorney is or has been involved.”

While a “social relationship with an attorney” may not be grounds for a recusal, “when … that relationship becomes something more than casual social interaction, and involves sexual jokes and the desire for a romantic relationship, then it raises reasonable questions about the judge’s ability to be impartial.”

Hat tip: Legal Profession Blog.

Earlier coverage:

ABAJournal.com: “Judge Rapped, Should Have Stepped Aside Before Going to Lunch with PD, Official Argues”

Corrected on June 27 to state that the supreme court fined Schwartz $6,000 instead of suspending him for 60 days.


Correction

Corrected on June 27 to state that the supreme court fined Schwartz $6,000 instead of suspending him for 60 days.


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