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December 4, 1998



Honorable Phillip T. Whiteaker
Circuit/Chancery Judge Division II
Lonoke County Courthouse
301 North Center
Lonoke, AR 72086 

RE: Advisory Opinion # 98-05

Dear Judge Whiteaker:

You have asked this committee whether there is an ethical impropriety in your presiding over cases in which one of the litigants is represented by an attorney for whom your spouse, who is self-employed, performs accounting services. You state that Mrs. Whiteaker works outside the home rendering accounting/bookkeeping services to her clients, which may include attorneys who regularly appear before you. You state that Mrs. Whiteaker is engaged as an independent contractor, has no involvement with firm clients or particular cases, and has only limited contact with the particular firm in general. She has no specific hours of work ( averaging less than ten hours a month in the client's office) and that neither taxes, insurance nor social security are withheld.

Canon 3(E) of the Arkansas Code of Judicial Conduct governs the disqualification by judges. Four (4) specific provisions are covered by the canon, none of which is applicable to the situation you pose. Thus, the applicable language is "A judge shall disqualify himself or herself in a proceeding in which the judge's impartiality might reasonably be questioned . . . ." Canon 2 provides that "A Judge Shall Avoid Impropriety and the Appearance of Impropriety in all the Judge's Activities".

Summarizing the assumed facts, a self-employed spouse of a judge performs part-time accounting services for an attorney who practices before such judge, and might have unauthorized access to the files of clients involved in litigation before that judge. With these facts in mind, we do not believe that a reasonable person would conclude that the appearance of a conflict arises.




Steele Hays

For the Committee

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