By Michael Mohler, Jackson Lewis P.C.
As lawyers, many of our relationships are governed by our rules of professional conduct. For the most part, these rules place burdens, limits and duties on us. The judge-lawyer relationship, however, is governed by interlocking rules from both sides. In our practices, lawyers are limited in what we can say to a judge, as well as when and how we say it. We may really want to let the judge know what we think is going on in a case, or we may really want to know what the judge is thinking on an issue, but often can’t just say or ask what we want. On the other hand, our duty of candor may require us to say things we’d rather not. Beyond the technical rules, we have to consider decorum, preferences, and what to do when we make even minor mistakes. Judges are subject to similar rules that shape what, when, and how they communicate to the lawyers and parties appearing before them.
As this pandemic has made exceedingly clear, our professional lives are not as separated from our professional life as we may have assumed. The judge-lawyer relationship likewise cannot be corralled into our professional lives. The lawyer-judge relationship appears in our social lives. The IndyBar recently held a golf outing where lawyers and judges spent hours together. Many of us have truly personal relationships with judges—they are our neighbors, our classmates, our kids go to the same school and we attend the same church.
The lawyer-judge relationship appears in our political lives. Many of the trial judges we appear before are elected officials associated with a political party. Lawyers and law firms have a long history of political participation, whether through donated funds, donated services, active partisan campaigning, non-partisan advocacy, and all the blurred lines in between.
Regardless of setting, we must be mindful of our professional rules and the judge’s. What may seem like an acceptable question under our rules may have an impermissible answer under the judge’s rules. What may seem like a neighborly gesture might lead to quite a paperwork hassle for a judge.
With the political season in full swing (and an upcoming deadline to get in all your ethics credits), the IndyBar Young Lawyers Division recently offered an excellent chance to hear from Judge David Certo just how to navigate many potentially tricky situations. You can check out the program here.
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