JUDICIAL ACCEPTANCE OF REFERRAL FEES

Opinion No. 210 (1997)


QUESTION: May a judge who is asked by former clients and friends to recommend a realtor accept a referral fee from the realtor? The recommended realtor is not a lawyer but is the largest firm in the county.

ANSWER: No, a judge may not accept a referral fee. Canon 4 begins by admonishing a judge to conduct all of his extra-judicial activities so that they do not cast reasonable doubt on a judge's capacity to act impartially. Canon 4(D) goes on to require that a judge refrain from business dealings -that exploit his or her judicial position or involve the judge in frequent transactions with persons likely to come before the judge's Court.

In the facts presented, it seems that the appearance of impropriety is present, i.e., judges receiving money for referring business would not be seen as appropriate by the general public. There is a strong potential for the judge's position to be exploited. Additionally, since the real estate firm is the largest in the county, there is a potential for the real estate firm to come before the judge, additionally violating Canon 4.