By Clarence Cuthpert, Jr.
Rockdale Probate Judge
Many citizens contact the Probate Court and ask to speak with the judge. The initial response from the clerk is usually, “What is it in reference to?” The citizen’s response to this question is often “Why do you need to know?” I assure you it is not just because the clerk is being nosy. It is because as judges, we must avoid conversations that give one party an advantage over another.
Judges are prohibited from communicating with a party to an active case, or someone who is looking to file a case in the court over which he or she presides. Ex parteis a Latin phrase that means, “on one side only”, or “by or for one party.” An ex parte communication occurs when a party to a case, or someone involved with a party, talks or writes to or otherwise communicates directly with a judge about the issues in the case without the other party’s knowledge. The rules governing judges are called the Judicial Code of Conduct. They are created to ensure that we administer justice fairly. Rule 2.9, Assuring Fair Hearings and Averting Ex Parte Communications, states in part “…Judges shall not initiate, permit, or consider ex parte communications, or consider other communications made to them outside the presence of the parties, or their lawyers, concerning a pending proceeding or impending matter….” Rule 2.9(B) further states in part “…If a judge inadvertently receives an unauthorized ex parte communication bearing upon the substance of a matter, the judge shall make provision promptly to notify the parties of the substance of the communication and provide the parties with a reasonable opportunity to respond.” Moreover, judges shall immediately stop any attempted ex parte communication.
Think about it. Would you want the judge to speak to other parties about your case without your knowledge? Probably not. Therefore, even if you send a letter or other document to the judge without providing a copy to the other party or their attorney, the court will be required to notify all parties in the case about the communication so that they will have an opportunity to respond. If you want to request that the court take certain action(s) regarding your case, you should file a motion explaining your position, and provide a copy of the motion to the other parties to the case as well.
So, the answer is Yes! You can speak to the judge if it is not related to an active or impending case. Please know that you are welcome to give me a call with general questions pertaining to the probate court and its functions, or with ideas that may help us improve the services we provide.
The information included herein is only intended to address the ex parte rules or Judicial Code of Conduct in part. Therefore, the purpose of this article is to provide a basic understanding of the same. This information is not all inclusive and should not be used as or considered to be legal advice, as there are limited exceptions to the ex parte rules that are beyond the scope of this article.