There Goes the Judge

In an interesting ethics lesson for law firms and judges, the merger of two New Jersey firms has caused one partner to submit his resignation as a part-time municipal law judge after serving 23 years on the bench.

Phillip Sheridan is a partner in Haddonfield, N.J.-based Archer & Greiner, which merged with Sheridan’s former firm last year. Until about a month ago, he also was a part-time municipal judge in the town of Ridgewood, where he’d served since Ronald Reagan was in the White House. Sheridan’s professional life was complicated by a 2010 New Jersey Supreme Court ruling that bars law firms from making political contributions if they employ municipal judges. Neither Sheridan nor his former firm contributed to political candidates, but his new firm, Archer & Greiner, is on the books for nearly $330,000 in political contributions from 2003 through 2011.

Even though there are no records to suggest that the merged firm made any political contributions after Sheridan became an employee, he was still obligated by law to pick one job over the other. Sheridan opted to stick with his law firm, which is not surprising given the disparate amount each job pays.

His story provides an important lesson about legal ethics. Although lawyers and judges are often accused of being corrupt simply because they are lawyers, our ethics rules are actually quite a bit more involved than the ethics requirements of perhaps any other profession. Many of these rules not only address actual impropriety, but the appearance of impropriety, because the public’s faith in the integrity of the legal system is always paramount to any lawyer’s need to make a living.

And that’s as it should be.

Posted: 10/2/2012 12:00:00 AM by Editor | with 0 comments

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Thanks for stopping by On the Merits, the first blog from the Texas Center for Legal Ethics. On the Merits will take a close look at significant legal stories with an eye toward addressing the legal myths and misconceptions that turn up in news stories, movies, TV programs, websites, anonymous emails and other forms of mass communications. Our goal at On the Merits is to provide readers with a thoughtful examination of what the media and others are saying about the legal profession and to apply the frequently-absent context of how the legal system actually works.

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