Titles of Former and Retired Judges, Revisited

In June of 2013, Ohio’s Board of Commissioners on Grievances and Discipline issued Opinion 2013-3, which dramatically limited the use of the title “judge” for former judges. I wrote about that here.

The exact question presented to the Board at the time was whether it was appropriate for former judges to use judicial titles after leaving the bench.

The thinking, apparently, was that since a former judge isn’t a judge anymore, the title isn’t “needed for identification purposes. Invariably, the use of a judicial title outside of judicial service is for personal gain or advantage or to create a benefit or recognition for another.”

The opinion did say it was ok if lawyers, friends, acquaintances, or strangers call a former judge by title due to “habit, customs of etiquette, or a prior relationship,” but noted the practice should not be encouraged.

This opinion caused a considerable amount of bewilderment when it was released—it seemed like a solution in search of a problem.

Effective today, June 1, 2014, the Supreme Court of Ohio adopted two amendments to Rule 8.2 (Judicial Officials) of the Ohio Rules of Professional Conduct, which it controls, and which in effect modify the above opinion. In fact, the Court expressly added a comment to the new rule provisions which expressly states that these rule amendments trump any conflict with Opinion 2013-3.

So, here are the new rule provisions on the use of judicial titles:

  • “A lawyer who is a retired or former judge or magistrate may use a title such as ‘justice,’ ‘judge,’ ‘magistrate,’ ‘Honorable’ or ‘Hon.’ when the title is preceded or followed by the word ‘retired,’ if the lawyer retired in good standing with the Supreme Court, or ‘former,’ if the lawyer, due to the loss of an election, left judicial office in good standing with the Supreme Court.”
  • “ A lawyer who is a retired or former judge shall not state or imply that the lawyer’s former service as a judge enables the lawyer to improperly influence any person or entity, including a government agency or official, or to achieve results by means that violate the Ohio Rules of Professional Conduct or other law.”

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The former Judge Bettman