Law Firm Disqualified After Hiring Retired Judge Who Handled The Case

The Appellate Division just disqualified the law firm that represented the wife after hiring the retired judge who presided over the case. While this seems to be such an easy conclusion to reach, nevertheless it was litigated and appealed.

The divorce case started in 2007 and was before a Suffolk County Supreme Court Judge. In August, 2010 the judge filed his retirement papers effective September 30, 2010. Newsday reported on September 19, 2010 of the judge's imminent retirement and days later the senior partner of a Suffolk County law firm approached the judge and offered him a non-equity position as a salaried attorney which offer was accepted effective October 1, 2010.

Previously while sitting as a judge, an order was issued in April, 2010 and was amended by the judge in June, 2010 following a request for clarification which effectively reversed the prior decision according to the husband. On September 3, 2010 the judge declined to rescind his amended order. The husband alleged that since the judge had already filed his retirement papers he believed that the judge and attorney were already discussing his possible future position with the firm. When it became public knowledge that the judge had accepted a position with the firm representing his wife, the firm refused to disqualify itself and a motion was made for formal disqualification due to the appearance of an impropriety.

Although the law firm argued that the case was never discussed with the new hiree, the judge, the Appellate Court stated that the firm should have been and is disqualified.

Unfortunately, this type of decision making by a law firm and a retired judge does not instill confidence in clients already leary of a judicial system and process that they may not understand.

Unrelated to this decision, the retired judge is no longer employed at the law firm.