COUNTY JUDGE AS PRACTICING PSYCHOLOGIST

Opinion No. 218 (1998)


FACTS: Prior to assuming the bench, a constitutional county court judge (who is also a licensed mental health professional) maintained a private clinical practice which included preparation of court-ordered social studies in adoption and child custody proceedings.

QUESTION: May a constitutional county court judge who is also a licensed mental health professional provide clinical and technical (but not legal) consultation to other licensed mental health professionals who are involved in the preparation of court ordered social studies? The consultations would only be given under the following conditions:

  1. the judge is not involved in the interview process, investigation or other information gathering activity required in conducting the studies;
  2. the judge would only consult with other licensed mental health professionals, and he would not be involved in frequent transactions with lawyers or other persons likely to come before the court on which the Judge serves;
  3. the judge will not voluntarily testify as an expert witness while continuing to serve on the bench;
  4. the fact that the judge was consulted in preparation of a social study report may be noted in the report by listing his name and professional credentials (absent his judicial title); however, a disclaimer will be given and no representation will be made that the judge holds a particular opinion or makes a specific recommendation regarding disposition of the case under study; and
  5. the judge would be compensated on a fee basis by the mental heath professional who employs him.

ANSWER: No. The purpose of a court-ordered social study is to provide evidentiary support for a determination of the best interests of a child in a custody or adoption proceeding, and it is ordered specifically prepared for use of a court in making that determination. Recognition of the contribution of the county judge in preparation of a social study would tend to lend the prestige of his judicial office to advance the private interests of others in violation of Canon 2(B).

This activity could also exploit the judge's judicial position, and by making him a potential witness in all cases in which he serves as a recognized consultant in preparation of a social study, it could involve the judge in frequent transactions with lawyers or persons likely to come before the court on which the judge serves, in violation of Canon 4(D)(1).

Canon 2(A) requires a judge to act at all times in a manner that promotes public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary, and the judge should restrict his private clinical practice to non-court related activities while serving as a county judge.