Risk Update

Conflicts Concerns — “Spector” Spurs Law Firm Disqualification, Florida Update on Magistrate DQ Rules

General magistrates need not recuse themselves when former colleagues appear before them” —

  • “General magistrates are not required to automatically disqualify themselves from cases in which a recently resigned magistrate appears as counsel of record, according to the Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee.”
  • “Acting March 1 in Opinion 2023-02, the advice comes following an inquiry from a judicial officer who wanted to know, if a former magistrate joins a private law firm that regularly appears before the court, whether that would require the remaining magistrates to automatically disqualify themselves.”
  • “The inquirer cited former JEAC opinions 04-06 and 10-36 as precedent, which outlined recusal or disclosure based on a judicial officer’s prior legal employment. In those instances, the JEAC opined that ‘[t]wo years is a reasonable period of time for a judge to disqualify himself or herself from hearing any cases handled by the judge’s former law firm, so long as at the end of two years there are no financial ties between the judge and former law firm.'”
  • “In this instance, the JEAC said it could answer the inquiry “fairly succinctly,” that magistrates are not required to automatically disqualify themselves.”
  • “The opinion went on to say that in the context of judicial ethics, a general magistrate is more akin to a constitutional officer than to an attorney at a law firm or governmental agency.”

Ritz-Carlton Atty DQ’d For Conflicts In Tipping Suit” —

  • “The ‘specter of impropriety’ has disqualified an attorney from serving as defense counsel shortly after his appearance in Miami federal court caused a magistrate judge, his former longtime colleague, to recuse herself from a case brought by a proposed class of Ritz-Carlton customers alleging the hotel chain hid automatic tipping on bills.”
  • “U.S. Magistrate Judge Lisette M. Reid on Wednesday disqualified Peter Valori from appearing as counsel for Ritz-Carlton and also recommended that the recusal of Magistrate Judge Melissa Damian be upheld. The two were blocked from appearing in court together due to their nine-year working relationship at the boutique firm Damian & Valori LLP.”
  • “Judge Damian recused herself from the suit in November, one day after Valori submitted a notice of appearance to serve as co-counsel representing Ritz-Carlton.”
  • “Judge Reid said the defense’s argument for retaining Valori ‘essentially invites this court to ignore the elephant in the room: Of all the qualified attorneys admitted in this district, why did [the] defendant choose the one whose appearance would almost certainly lead to either a judge’s recusal or a motion by plaintiff to disqualify counsel?'”
  • “The proposed class also thought that argument was a stretch, accusing Ritz-Carlton of ‘judge-shopping’ in order to drop a magistrate judge who had so far shown favor to plaintiffs.”
  • “The claims in the suit date back to a complaint filed by a Ritz-Carlton customer named Michael Fox in 2017. Fox claimed that customers who ‘purchased food and/or drinks at a restaurant, bar, mini-bar, lounge and/or other public food service establishment owned, operated and/or controlled by defendant in the state of Florida’ were charged an additional gratuity or service charge, in violation of state law.”