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View Full Version : Can a Supreme Court Justice argue a case as an attorney?



josephperin
03-12-2016, 12:06 AM
Any lawyers here?

Can a sitting Supreme Court Justice act as defense lawyer for someone. (His half-brother being sued in civil court in NYC for the death of his GF after the legal system concludes he had nothing to do with the girl's death)

cornflake
03-12-2016, 12:25 AM
Any lawyers here?

Can a sitting Supreme Court Justice act as defense lawyer for someone. (His half-brother being sued in civil court in NYC for the death of his GF after the legal system concludes he had nothing to do with the girl's death)

That's an interesting question.

My first instinct is that they wouldn't. Just wouldn't do such a thing.

That said, to be able to, they'd have to be licensed and in good standing in the state the case is in, or be supervised, which would be decidedly odder.

WeaselFire
03-12-2016, 12:41 AM
Yes. But none would. No attorney defends family if there is any way to help it. And a Supreme Court Justice would never want to defend a civil suit, they would want a quality civil attorney to do this. Besides, any justice has about 10,000 attorneys they could call who would be better at this defense and likely do it as a favor.

I have no idea what your story premise is but, for me, this part of it would jump the shark.

Jeff

CassandraW
03-12-2016, 12:50 AM
The short answer is "no."

Supreme Court justices are not formally bound to a code of ethics, but they generally consult and follow the code of ethics that binds other federal judges (http://www.newyorker.com/news/news-desk/does-the-supreme-court-need-a-code-of-conduct). (Sorry it's a link to a New Yorker article, but it's the first thing I found and I haven't time to dig up something more official and authoritative today. The link to the federal code below, however, is official and authoritative.)

And under that code (http://www.uscourts.gov/judges-judgeships/code-conduct-united-states-judges):


(5) Practice of Law. A judge should not practice law and should not serve as a family member’s lawyer in any forum. A judge may, however, act pro se and may, without compensation, give legal advice to and draft or review documents for a member of the judge’s family.

Imagine, if you will, a lower court judge in the position of having a Supreme Court justice arguing a case in front of him. It would put the presiding judge in a difficult position, and the opposing attorney at a severe disadvantage. There's just no way I can see this happening.

And while it's unlikely, just imagine if the case were appealed all the way to the Supreme Court.

Ditch this plot.

josephperin
03-12-2016, 02:59 AM
Thanks all. I am leaving the hon. justice worrying about the messes of the half-brother but his legal defense in the hands of someone else.

jclarkdawe
03-12-2016, 05:45 PM
Your idea works well, but with a significant change. Instead of doing the case and remaining a judge, your character would need to retire. This actually would be better for your story.

I would strongly suggest reading a good biography on Justice O'Connor and her struggles over retiring to take care of her husband. There are many factors that need to be considered. You also need to read a couple of good books on the dynamics of the Supreme Court. Retiring from the Supreme Court is an incredibly complex decision with ramifications that can extend for decades. That's why Justice Scalia's untimely death is such an issue. His death is going to directly impact the Supreme Court for the next decade.

You've chosen a complex issue. It could be a good book. But you need to do a lot of research to make it work.

Best of luck,

Jim Clark-Dawe

raelwv
03-13-2016, 07:15 AM
Your idea works well, but with a significant change. Instead of doing the case and remaining a judge, your character would need to retire. This actually would be better for your story.

I would strongly suggest reading a good biography on Justice O'Connor and her struggles over retiring to take care of her husband.

This is good advice. Even after retirement, O'Connor would sit on a Circuit Court every now and then (I got to argue in front of her once - and won!), so it's not beyond the realm of possibility that a justice would "retire" but stay active in the legal community.

King Neptune
03-13-2016, 09:49 PM
This is good advice. Even after retirement, O'Connor would sit on a Circuit Court every now and then (I got to argue in front of her once - and won!), so it's not beyond the realm of possibility that a justice would "retire" but stay active in the legal community.

I don't know about the federal bench, but many state court judges continue to preside over a court after retirement; they just don't work nearly as many hours, etc. Whether they would hear a complete variety of cases or just certain ones might depend on the location.

ironmikezero
03-13-2016, 10:02 PM
Federal (Art. III) judges are appointed for life, and take "senior status" at age seventy--a sort of semi-retirement. This means they can pretty much pick/choose what cases they hear. At some point each will decline to hear any more cases, effectively entering into "full" retirement. Some judges have left the federal judiciary (other than retirement), albeit rarely, via resignation or impeachment.


https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Article_Three_of_the_United_States_Constitution

ZachJPayne
03-13-2016, 11:33 PM
I have a Federal Judge mentor character in my novel, and recently had to look this up as well: unfortunately, the answer seems to be no, going off of the code of ethics, as mentioned above -- especially considering that it was a family court and she had a personal stake in the case.

Now, I definitely have this judge offering guidance behind-the-scenes, including hunting down a lawyer from her college days.

As for senior-status SCOTUS judges sitting on lower benches ... I've always imagined a scene where some low-level drug dealer is standing in a district court all cocky, and nearly shits himself when they get to ". . . The Honorable Sandra Day O'Connor presiding."

King Neptune
03-13-2016, 11:54 PM
As for senior-status SCOTUS judges sitting on lower benches ... I've always imagined a scene where some low-level drug dealer is standing in a district court all cocky, and nearly shits himself when they get to ". . . The Honorable Sandra Day O'Connor presiding."

That would be great, but she would be in a federal court, where even the district courts don't get many low level drug dealers'

ZachJPayne
03-14-2016, 12:34 AM
That would be great, but she would be in a federal court, where even the district courts don't get many low level drug dealers'

Really? I read that they get quite a bit of that in S.D. Cal., which is where my character is based. Then again, I suppose "low level" is relative. :)

CassandraW
03-14-2016, 12:41 AM
I doubt many low level drug dealers have much idea who Sandra Day O'Conner is. Sadly, many educated people can't name a single Supreme Court Justice. His lawyer would be impressed, though.

Also, she wouldn't necessarily be tougher on a drug dealer than a less fancy judge.

King Neptune
03-14-2016, 12:43 AM
Really? I read that they get quite a bit of that in S.D. Cal., which is where my character is based. Then again, I suppose "low level" is relative. :)

Yes, I would think that "low level" is very much a relative term. The feds don't even bother with people for a quarter pound of pot, but state courts often do.

King Neptune
03-14-2016, 12:45 AM
I doubt many low level drug dealers have much idea who Sandra Day O'Conner is. Sadly, many educated people can't name a single Supreme Court Justice. His lawyer would be impressed, though.

Also, she wouldn't necessarily be tougher on a drug dealer than a less fancy judge.

I can imagine her laughing some cases away.

raelwv
03-14-2016, 06:37 AM
Yes, I would think that "low level" is very much a relative term. The feds don't even bother with people for a quarter pound of pot, but state courts often do.

In our district we have had clients charged with distributing two pills (Oxycontin and the like). That's it. I know that wouldn't happen in larger districts, but I think it does in smaller districts like SDWV.

josephperin
03-14-2016, 07:09 AM
This is good info. Thanks, all.

This was supposed to be a minor plot point. A break in pattern in an otherwise exemplary career which triggers suspicion. But I found another way to do that.

But seems there could be entire story in that alone :D

King Neptune
03-14-2016, 05:22 PM
In our district we have had clients charged with distributing two pills (Oxycontin and the like). That's it. I know that wouldn't happen in larger districts, but I think it does in smaller districts like SDWV.

I'm surprised that the feds even see cases that small. I hope that there is something else involved and that was all that ended up being prosecuted such as they were trying to nail someone for interstate trafficking of ten thousand, but they only had good evidence for those two pills.