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Written Communications with a Judge or Judicial Official

Adopted: July 23, 1999

Opinion restricts informal written communications with a judge or judicial official relative to a pending matter.

Inquiry:

Attorney A represents the employee in a workers' compensation case. Attorney X represents the employer and the insurance carrier. After the case was assigned to a deputy commissioner for hearing, Attorney A wrote to Attorney X regarding discovery disputes, medical treatment and examination of the employee, and alternative employment for the employee. The letter implied that Attorney X had engaged in improper conduct by communicating with an examining physician and failing to respond to discovery. The letter was copied to the deputy commissioner scheduled to hear the case.

Apart from the submission or filing of formal pleadings, motions, petitions, or notices, may a lawyer communicate in writing with a judge or other judicial official about a proceeding that is pending before the judge or judicial official

Opinion:

A lawyer may communicate in writing with a judge or judicial official under the limited circumstances set forth below.

Rule 3.5(a)(3) of the Revised Rules of Professional Conduct regulates ex parte communications by a lawyer with a judge or other judicial official. The phrase "other judicial official," as used in the rule, includes, but is not limited to, the commissioners and deputy commissioners of the Industrial Commission.

On its face, Rule 3.5(a)(3) appears to permit unlimited written communications with a judge or other judicial official relative to a proceeding pending before the judge or judicial official provided a copy of the written communication is furnished simultaneously to the opposing party. The rule must be read, however, in conjunction with Rule 8.4(d) which prohibits conduct that is prejudicial to the administration of justice, and with comment [7] to Rule 3.5 which states

All litigants and lawyers should have access to tribunals on an equal basis. Generally, in adversary proceedings, a lawyer should not communicate with a judge relative to a matter pending before, or which is to be brought before, a tribunal over which the judge presides in circumstances which might have the effect or give the appearance of granting undue advantage to one party

The submission to a tribunal of formal written communications, such as pleadings and motions, pursuant to the tribunal's rules of procedure, does not create the appearance of granting undue advantage to one party. Unfortunately, informal ex parte written communications, whether addressed directly to the judge or copied to the judge as in this inquiry, may be used as an opportunity to introduce new evidence, to argue the merits of the case, or to cast the opposing party or counsel in a bad light. To avoid the appearance of improper influence upon a tribunal, informal written communications with a judge or other judicial official should be limited to the following

1) Written communications, such as a proposed order or legal memorandum, prepared pursuant to the court's instructions

2) Written communications relative to emergencies, changed circumstances, or scheduling matters that may affect the procedural status of a case such as a request for a continuance due to the health of a litigant or an attorney;

3) Written communications sent to the tribunal with the consent of the opposing lawyer or opposing party if unrepresented; an

4) Any other communication permitted by law or the rules or written procedures of the particular tribunal

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