NOTE: MRPC 7.1 was amended effective January 1, 2019, to include the following language: “Except as otherwise provided in this rule, a lawyer who is a retired or former justice, judge, referee, or magistrate may use the title (“justice,” “judge,” “referee,” or “magistrate”) only when the title is preceded by the word “retired” or “former.” A justice, judge, referee, or magistrate who is removed from office or terminated on grounds of misconduct is prohibited from using the title.”
May 21, 1983
It is not unethical for a retired judge to use stationery with the letterhead designation "Attorney-at-Law" and the words "Formerly Judge of XXX Court" imprinted at the bottom of the stationery under circumstances where the individual is also retired from the practice of law, provided that the former judge maintains membership in the State Bar of Michigan, and the stationery is used for personal non-business correspondence to friends and acquaintances.
References: Supreme Court Administrative Order 1978-4.
A retired judge who is no longer engaged in the practice of law proposes to indicate his previous judicial positions on stationery intended for personal use. The stationery would bear the words "Attorney-at-Law" imprinted on the masthead with the following, or similar designation, printed at the bottom of the stationery:
"Formerly Circuit Judge-XXX County and Formerly Judge of the Michigan Court of Appeals."
Michigan Supreme Court Administrative Order 1978-4 is the rule governing lawyer communications and states:
"A lawyer may on behalf of himself, his partner or associate, or any other lawyer affiliated with him or his firm, use or participate in the use of any form of public communication that is not false, fraudulent, misleading, or deceptive."
If the inquirer continues to maintain membership in the State Bar of Michigan, it would not be unethical for the inquirer to use the designation "Attorney at Law" imprinted. Similarly, the stationery may reveal the inquirer's former judicial positions, so long as the "retired" status is clearly indicated. If the inquirer were actively engaged in the practice, use of the proposed stationery would be improper, since there is an implication that because of the prior judicial positions, the inquirer may be in a position to influence former judicial colleagues to act favorably with regard to a client's matter.
On the subject of a letterhead designation "Attorney at Law," with the words "Formerly Circuit Judge-XXX County and Formerly Judge of Michigan Court of Appeals" printed at the bottom of the stationery, there appears to be nothing false, fraudulent, misleading, or deceptive, provided that the stationery is used for purely personal, non-business correspondence to friends and acquaintances.
The inquirer intends to use the stationery in part to shepherd "investments in stocks, bonds and land contracts." In this respect, there is a potential for use of the stationery in what may appear to be a legal situation and likely may be misleading to the recipients. The stationery should not be used for personal business matters.