There are many different ways a California attorney can have a conflict of interest. One of them may arise if an attorney representing you had also served in some capacity as a judge. As a client, you may be concerned if the legal counsel that represents you also had judged a case much like your own. Under certain circumstances, this kind of relationship can violate rules of legal conduct.
The California Rules of Professional Conduct state that an attorney is not permitted to represent you if you as a client had been a part of a matter in which the attorney acted as a judge. Specifically, the attorney cannot have participated “personally” and “substantially” as a judge. A substantial contribution is when an attorney’s involvement was significant, though not necessarily determinative, to the outcome of the matter. Personal participation can involve the attorney’s direct involvement or the participation of a subordinate.
This prohibition does not extend merely to an attorney who acted as a judge in a courtroom, but to a lawyer who had previously served in any number of third party adjudication functions. These include acting as an adjudicative officer other than a judge, or as a law clerk or a judicial staff attorney to such an officer. In addition, this prohibition applies to attorneys who have acted as mediators, arbitrators, or any position considered to be a third party neutral.
This does not mean that you cannot seek representation from another attorney from the same law firm, but under the California Rules of Professional Conduct, the attorney who is barred from representing you should not take any fees from your representation and must otherwise not be associated with your case. All appropriate parties should also receive written notice so that the rules can receive the proper compliance.
This article is only written for educational purposes. Do not take it as actionable legal advice.