Ex-Judges Cannot Use Judicial Titles in Most Instances, Opinion Finds
Only under limited circumstances may former judges use judicial titles, according to an advisory opinion announced today from the Ohio Supreme Court Board of Commissioners on Grievances & Discipline.
Previously in a 1993 opinion, the board only considered the use of judicial titles by former judges upon their return to the private practice of law. The newly released Opinion 2013-3 addresses former judges’ use of judicial titles in a variety of contexts.
The opinion’s syllabus states that: “Former judges may not use judicial titles while practicing law, engaging in law-related or other business activities, working in government or other public sector positions, or providing charity or community services.”
However, the syllabus notes that “former judges serving as retired assigned, acting, and private judges may use judicial titles in case-related entries, orders, decisions, and correspondence.”
The opinion based its conclusions on several rules of the Ohio Rules of Professional Conduct and Code of Judicial Conduct.
Recognizing that social etiquette rules adhere to the “once a judge, always a judge” adage, the opinion found that the philosophy “is misplaced in modern American legal and judicial ethics.”
The opinion also discusses exceptions for former judges making factual statements about their prior judicial service and others using the judicial title to refer to the former judge as an honorific.
“To state it simply, a former judge is not a judge,” the opinion states. “Judges are elected or appointed to a public office, occupy that office for a period of time, and then vacate the office either voluntarily and involuntarily.
“Because a former judge no longer holds office, a judicial title is not needed for identification purposes. Invariably, the use of a judicial title outside of judicial service is for personal gain or advantage or to create a benefit or recognition for another,” the opinion continues.
Advisory Opinions of the Board of Commissioners on Grievances and Discipline are informal, nonbinding opinions in response to prospective or hypothetical questions regarding the application of the Supreme Court Rules for the Government of the Bar of Ohio, the Supreme Court Rules for the Government of the Judiciary, the Ohio Rules of Professional Conduct, the Ohio Code of Judicial Conduct, and the Attorney’s Oath of Office.
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