Newly appointed Circuit Judge Karen Murphy Jensen of Caroline County is providing a good example of how to handle problems dealing with conflicts of interest arising out of marriage -- treating the issue seriously but solving it with common sense.
In today's world of working couples, it's common to find husbands and wives in the same field. That two lawyers happen to be married should not disqualify one from being appointed to the bench. But the courts must ensure that fairness, impartiality and equity are not compromised by favoritism.
Obviously, one spouse cannot preside over a case where the other represents a party appearing before the court. Criminal defendants and their attorneys should not have to worry that the presidministrators have used to handle Ms. Jensen's situation. She is married to Christian J. Jensen, Caroline County state's attorney. Other Eastern Shore judges or retired judges will preside over cases brought by her husband's office.
Judge Jensen will hear civil cases and sign warrants in Caroline County. Since she is a member of a multicounty circuit, she can hear criminal cases in Cecil, Talbot, Kent or Queen Anne's counties.
Married couples with overlapping careers are part of our society. Following professional codes of conduct and ethics are often sufficient to avoid conflicts of interest. In situations where these codes don't give sufficient guidance, common-sense solutions usually can be fashioned. That's what happened in the case of Judge Jensen.