The Minnesota Supreme Court has issued a 22-page opinion: censure and suspension from judicial duties for 6 months without pay is warranted for First District Judge Timothy Blakely who violated Canons of Judicial Conduct by negotiating and obtaining a substantial legal fee reduction from his personal attorney (whom he owed nearly $100,000) at the same time he was appointing the attorney to provide mediation or related services in matters pending before him (more than a dozen times).
It’s true that Minnesota District Judges might not be paid much more than starting lawyers at the largest Minnesota law firms. (It’s hard to know exactly because one cannot easily compare benefits, discretionary bonuses, etc. It’s pretty close.) But the rules are the rules and, from the opinion of the Minnesota Supreme, a sitting Judge seems to have been trying to work off his personal debt to a lawyer by exchanging mediation referrals for a discount (though the Judge strenuously denied any quid pro quo).
Some may argue that a referral to a competent and neutral mediator in exchange for some benefit to the referrer might be victimless or might even confer a benefit to those referred. (With a stream of referrals, the mediator’s marketing/business development costs go down and, perhaps, that keeps her hourly fees from going up?) An analogous argument has been made (and seriously challenged) in other contexts. But, again, the rules are fairly clear and the consequences of transgression as well.