"The key is disclosure," said Samuel C. Stretton, a lawyer who represents judges and lawyers in disciplinary proceedings and who writes an ethics column for The Legal, commenting broadly.
"Judges know a lot of people," he said, and if they make the disclosure up front, it gives the parties an opportunity to weigh in and avoids the appearance of impropriety.
Guarding the integrity of the institution is important, said Drinker Biddle & Reath attorney Lawrence Fox, who teaches professional responsibility at Yale Law School, both for the parties in a given case as well as the public at large.
Here, he said, "I think everyone's acted properly."
Fuentes ruled against his daughter's client, affirming the District of New Jersey judge who sentenced Joseph Passalaqua to 190 months in prison for conspiring to commit robbery in violation of the Hobbs Act.
"At the time of his sentencing, Passalaqua was a 57-year-old college graduate, former champion gymnast and owner of a gymnastics, dance and karate school," Fuentes wrote in the now-vacated opinion.
Although he didn't carry them out himself, Passalaqua had organized the robberies of various restaurants and homes of restaurant owners with whom he had a "personal vendetta," according to the opinion. He was arrested after he was recorded agreeing to murder three people for cash payment.
On appeal, Passalaqua argued that his sentence was substantively unreasonable. The three-judge panel Fuentes wrote for disagreed.
Fuentes' situation comes on the heels of a failure to disclose a family relationship in Pennsylvania's state court system earlier this fall. In October, Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas Judge Allan L. Tereshko resigned as supervising judge of the trial division's civil section following criticism from the Superior Court because he didn't disclose that his wife used to work at a firm that was representing a party in his court before he ruled on a motion in the case.
"He took a hard line with himself," Stretton said of Tereshko. "He really had to."