Against the backdrop of a ballot question to force judges to pay more for their benefits, the New Jersey Supreme Court has approved amendments to the Rules Governing the Courts of the State of New Jersey, which impose new ethics obligations on those New Jersey judges who begin to look for alternative employment opportunities elsewhere.
Under the new disqualification rules for New Jersey judges, a judge that has “discussed or negotiated his or her post-retirement employment with any party, attorney or law firm involved in the matter” must be disqualified.
Similarly, Canon 3 of the Code of Judicial Conduct will now stipulates that a judge should be disqualified from any case where he or she has initiated contact about, discussed or negotiated postretirement employment with a party, lawyer or law firm in the case.
The commentary accompanying the rules offers the judiciary some advice for how to seek post-retirement employment without offending the new rules. It states:
A judge who engages in post-retirement employment negotiations or discussions while still on the bench with any party, attorney or law firm that does not have a matter pending before the judge, must do so in a way that minimizes the need for disqualification, does not interfere with the proper performance of the judge’s judicial duties, and upholds the integrity of the courts. A judge should delay starting any such negotiations or discussions until shortly before his or her planned retirement, and should discuss post-retirement employment opportunities with the fewest possible number of prospective employers.
While the rules are clearly designed to maintain impartiality, they will also make it increasingly difficult for judges to secure post-retirement employment while they are still on the bench.
For additional information, please see Are More Changes in Store for the New Jersey Judiciary?