The California Supreme Court Committee on Judicial Ethics Opinions (CJEO) has issued advice about whether judges participating in the California Judicial Mentor Program should disqualify from cases in which their mentee attorneys appear.
The program was launched by Gov. Gavin Newsom in July as a statewide undertaking between the executive and judicial branches. It pairs judges with judicial applicants at both the trial and appellate court levels with the goal of broadening judicial diversity and demystifying the application process.
In CJEO Expedited Opinion 2022-045, the committee concludes that judges acting as mentors should disqualify from cases involving mentee attorneys because a reasonable observer might doubt a mentor judge’s ability to be impartial. The committee notes the program involves frequent and substantive contact between mentors and mentees, and that mentorship implies a close and influential relationship.
The committee also notes judges may become personally invested in a mentee’s success and question their own capacity to be impartial. For these same reasons, appellate justices who are mentoring trial judges applying to the appellate bench should disqualify from reviewing mentees’ adjudicatory decisions.
The California Judicial Mentor Program is an innovative program established by the executive and judicial branches. By issuing this opinion, the committee aims to provide judicial mentors with clear guidance so they can participate as mentors without fear of compromising public confidence in the impartiality of the judiciary,” said Justice Douglas Miller, committee vice-chair.
Because the committee advises judicial mentors to disqualify from cases involving their mentees, the committee did not reach the question of whether or to what extent trial judge mentors need to disclose participation in the program on the record.
About the Committee on Judicial Ethics Opinions (CJEO)
The Committee on Judicial Ethics Opinions is a 12-member advisory committee that includes appellate justices, trial court judges, a retired judge, and a commissioner. The committee is appointed and authorized by the California Supreme Court, but its work is independent of the court, the Judicial Council, and all other entities. Its opinions are advisory and do not necessarily reflect the views of the California Supreme Court or any other entity.
The committee issues formal, informal, and expedited advisory opinions on proper judicial conduct pursuant to the California Code of Judicial Ethics and other authorities. CJEO posts its opinions on the CJEO website for the benefit of the bench and the public.