How to Address a City or County Judge

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   3. Q&A on
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How to Address a Judge
City, County or State Court

Envelope, official:
    The Honorable (Full name)
         (Full Name of Court)

Letter salutation:
    Dear Judge (surname):

FYI, here is what's come into the Blog that relates to this office/rank.
   For recent questions sent in, check out Robert Hickey's Blog.

   For specific offices/ranks, check out Robert Hickey's On-Line Guide.

Is a Retired Judge Still Addressed as a Judge?
       A retired local judge is giving the invocation at our annual dinner. Is it still correct to call him "Judge (Name) on the agenda?  He's not attending as a representative of the court.  He's attending as a notable local citizen.

            -- Anne Hendrickson

Dear Ms. Hendrickson:
     Unless he or she left the bench in dishonor, retired judges continue to be in writing on letter or listed in a program The Honorable (Full Name) and continue to be orally addressed and in a salutation as Judge (surname) in every situation. If the city/county/state writes to him or her regarding his or her service at the court – they use those forms.
      Socially, retired judges are addressed the same way.

      As you will read in the post "Is a former judge still addressed as 'the Honorable' if now working as something else" there are situations where he or she might be addressed in another way because you are addressing him or her in some other role which has a different, but appropriate form of address.
      But in general, fully retired judges keep the
Honorable and Judge.

       -- Robert Hickey

Is a Person Still Addressed as
The Honorable
(A Former Official) If
He/She Is Now Working as Something Else?

Dear Robert,
     I have a question regarding a former judge who by his own choice returned to private practice. When he was a judge he was the Honorable. Is he still addressed "The Honorable (Full Name)," and as "Judge (Name)", or would that be inappropriate now that he is a lawyer in private practice?
             --- Mark

Hi Mark,
    Two part answer:
    1) The general rule is "once The Honorable, always The Honorable."  So addressing a social envelope to a retired judge would be as follows:
            The Honorable (full name)

        Retired judges are socially addressed in conversation as Judge (surname). 
In a social salutation you would address a retired judge as Dear Judge (surname). 
    2) However if a retired or former official who has assumed another form of employment (for pay) is not necessarily accorded the courtesies of a current or fully-retired official when acting in a subsequent professional context.  A judge who has assumed another position -- e.g., returned to private practice and is acting as counsel in litigation – he/she is addressed & identified on a business envelope in the style of an attorney.
     He or she would traditionally be addressed
in a purely social context as Judge (Name)  – by friends at parties, by neighbors on the street, or when issuing a wedding invitation for his daughter, but he would not be addressed as Judge (surname) when acting as legal counsel in another judge's courtroom.
           -- Robert Hickey

Dear Mr. Hickey
     t could be argued that the title of "Judge" has supplanted the title of "Mister" and that it would be a discourtesy (both to the retired judge and to the court that he or she served) to strip the retired judge of the title he or she earned.  In court the judge is referred to as "Your Honor," or "The Court," so the parties involved in the proceeding will not be confused.
    I should add it is the practice in our legal community to continue to refer to a retired judge who has returned to private practice as "Judge (surname)," at least outside of the courtroom.
             --- JAL & GW

Hi JAL & GW,
         If by "outside the courtroom" you mean in social situations, I'd say O.K.
         The pattern in forms of address is when one leaves an office which has a special form of address -- use of the courtesies of the forms of address related to the office extend to social use only.
        E.g., when USAF General who retires but subsequently works for a defense contractor and is selling a product or service to the U.S. government -- he is addressed as Mr. (Name) while working as a commercial representative

        Through interviews with attorney's and jurists they have confirmed the same pattern.
      The former judge might still be addressed socially as
Judge (Name) and could send out wedding invitations for his daughter's wedding as Judge (Name) because there is no possibility that anyone would think his actions have the force of the government behind them.
        Thus addressing a retired judge as Judge (Name) socially makes sense. But addressing a practicing attorney as Judge (Name) is misleading to his role in the current circumstance.
        When you observe formers being addressed as currents ... it has more to do with the person addressing the former office holder wanting to flatter the former office holder, or the former office holder wishing to continue to receive a courtesy accorded a current office holder.
           -- Robert Hickey

How to Address a Judge and Spouse
In a Salutation?

    I am writing a letter from a High School to a Judge and his wife regarding their child.  What is the proper salutation for the letter?  Dear ............
         -- Thanks, D.N.

Dear D.N.:
    On pages 145-146 in my chapter on Joint Forms of Address I answer this question.
    The most formal salutation for a judge and his spouse (if she uses the same last name) would be:
           Dear Judge Jennings and Mrs. Jennings:
    In a salutation you always use the form of the name used in conversation.
    Most formally people who hold high offices get their full name as a unit ... so Dear Judge and Mrs. Jennings would not be traditionally correct.  Wives who use the same surname as their spouses traditionally lose their given name with addressed along with their husband. 

     -- Robert Hickey

How to Address a Judge and Spouse
On the Letter and on the Envelope?

       How to I address a letter to a judge and her husband?

        -- Sam O'Brien

Dear Mr. O'Brien:
        I have a chapter in my book on joint forms of address to show the best form of addresses for men and women officials and their spouses. So if this sort of question comes up often, it would be a good resource for you.
        In a joint form of address the person with the higher title's name goes first.
        So if the wife is the judge and the husband is a "Mr." the form for both the address block on the letter and envelope would would be:
                The Honorable Nancy Jennings
                and Mr. Franklin Jennings
                2345 Westside Road
Melville, NY 11747
        Note that when the spouse is a man ... he get's his full name "Mr. Franklin Jennings."
        And the salutation would be:
                Dear Judge Jennings and Mr. Jennings:
        -- Robert Hickey

How to Address a Former Judge /
How a Former Judge Should Refer to Himself?

       I am a Magisterial District Judge who is retiring- having lost an election for purely political reasons. (In other words, no dishonor as referenced in one of the answers). I am returning to full time private practice. Here in PA, MDJs who are lawyers frequently have law practices in addition to their judicial post, which is what I did.
       I understand that many people will still call me “Judge” out or courtesy, respect, and friendliness. My question regards how I refer to myself. I do not intend to use that honorific in attorney correspondence. I am preparing announcements to send to friends, other lawyers, existing clients, and other people advising them that I will be expanding my practice to include certain matters that I could not, by rule, handle while an MDJ.
       Would it be proper, in those announcements, to say, for example, Judge Knight will draw on his 25 years of experience as a prosecutor and District Judge, in the defense of criminal and traffic cases.
       Thank you for your insight.
       -- Kevin Knight

Dear K.K.,
       In your announcements do not refer to yourself as Judge Knight.
       Best approach would be use a form that reflects the current position .. not a former position.
       Kevin Knight will draw on his 25 years of experience as a prosecutor and Magisterial District Judge, in the defense of criminal and traffic cases.
Certainly socially you could use Judge Kevin Knight on a daughter's wedding invitation if you choose to.  And if in the future you are at an event as a former MDJ ... then you could be addressed as Judge Knight.
       I am influenced by how protocol officers typically handle this in official situations. Protocol officers at the Pentagon who regularly have retired officers working for defense contractors, who as employees of the contractors are in commerce with the Pentagon.
       DoD's perspective on using his rank+name+retired in a subsequent job would be ... to paraphrase the current Chief of Protocol for the Joint Chiefs of Staff at the Pentagon:  If retirees are in a new job, then they should be addressed in a way that supports their new job and not using military rank+name+retired – it is a misrepresentation. They are in a new job – not the military. When retired officers attend Pentagon events as the holder of a post-retirement job -- and are not invited as a retired officer -- they are not addressed by rank+name+retired on invitations or tent cards etc., but as Mr./Ms. (name) and their new company affiliation.
       -- Robert Hickey

How to List a Judge in a Journal's Table of Contents?
    Mr. Hickey,
    If a student law journal is publishing an article by a judge, should they list him in the table of contents as Honorable (first name, last name) or just by name?
        -- Jason Brand

Dear Mr. Brand,
     Most formally in written direct address he or she is:
          The Honorable (first name, last name)
      Then after his name identify him as "Chief Judge of the Third Circuit Court of Appeals of New York" or whatever ...
     In a academic journal ... if academic post-nominals are appropriate ... "The Honorable" is never used with post-nominal:
          YES: (First name. last name), JD
          NO: The Honorable (first name. last name), JD
     I've seen Harry Reid, Senator for Nevada referred to in a law journal as Harry Reid, JD, then they went on to identify him as the "Majority Leader and Senior Senator for Nevada ..." 
     A 'by line' in a journal is not a direct form of address so the rules of 'how to address a letter' are not so definitive.

            -- Robert Hickey

How to Write A Judge's Name on a Certificate?
I see in your book forms of address for judges, but what about printing a certificate for an advisory committee in which we have both federal and state judges…..should the word honorable be used?
      -- R.A.

Dear R.A.,
    All US judges are addressed as "The Honorable (Full Name)"
    Some are appointed by the President ... which entitles them to be be:
        The Honorable (first name) (surname)
    Other are elected in general elections ... which also entitles them to be:
        The Honorable (first name) (surname)
    What options were you thinking of?
          A conversational form like Judge (Surname)?
          Or just their Full Name, Senior Judge, Third Circuit Court?
The Honorable is correct and is the most formal way to write their name. And therefore, they like it.
     I include all the forms of writing the names of judges and justices ... federal, state, and local ... in my book's chapter on US Federal, State and Municipal Officials.

         -- Robert Hickey

Capitalization of the "Y" in Your Honor?
    I have a question about capitalization. We actually have a post where readers can submit questions about capitalization, and in our post we discuss honorifics. Our advice to readers was to capitalize honorifics such as 'Your Honor.' A guest left a comment stating:
     "I beg to differ about your Honor. The court reporters in New York City have never capitalized the “y” in “your” while capitalizing the “H” in “Honor.” this has been consistent for decades (I started practicing here in 1973.)"
     My question is - should that 'y' be capitalized at all times, or not? My first instinct would be yes, as both words 'Your Honor' take the place of the judge's name and are meant to honor him or her. In any case, I'd like to be able to answer this reader. Thanks so much for any help you can give us!  I'll be glad to give you credit in my answer.

         -- Samantha at PricelessWriters

Dear Samantha @ PW:
      This is an editorial question rather than a forms of address question, so I am not in my precise area of interest, but here's my take on it. The closest I can suggest is when a courtesy title is in a sentence, the "the" is not capitalized:
         Today at 2:00 p.m. there will be an address by the Honorable Michael Bloomberg ...
I've heard from court reporters that they don't capitalized the "Y" in "your" but do capitalize the "H" in "Honor."  It 's their style and they use it consistently.
     The only hesitation I have is that names are capitalized in text and the combination of the both words in Your Honor is used in place of a name.  In a sentence The President will arrive in five minutes I would capitalize President because it is used in place of a name.  In the sentence The office of president has a term of four years I would not capitalize president because it is not used in place of a name.
    But in the end I leave this to copy editors!

    Note to other readers: here are the links to Samantha's blog (a really good source) at PricelessWriters: The original post on capitalization / and the blog of the questions they receive.
      -- Robert Hickey

More on Capitalization of the "Y" in Your Honor #2?
    What do you suggest when writing to a court when you do not know the name of the judge, but know that the document will in fact be read by a judge?  You indicate 'Your Honor' is an oral form, but what about when it must be written?  (Case in point, it's written herein.)
     I suggest that in that case Your Honor follow the same rule as Your Highness or Your Majesty.  In short, the Y and H are capitalized.

         -- RC @

Dear RC:
     I am not so sure Your Honor is something that "must be written." I know this is a hypothetical question, but I can't imagine I would direct a letter to a court and not find out exactly to whom it should be addressed.
    * Letters to a known judge are correctly addressed to Dear Judge (surname).
* Letters to any unknown person ... including a unknown judge at a court ... are best addressed to Dear Sir: or Dear Sirs: or Dear Sir or Madam: etc.
    Samantha's previous note was more of a copyediting question than a forms of address question, and I will leave the copyediting issues those professional copy editors who make all the other writers look so good.
      -- Robert Hickey

Not Finding Your Question Answered?
(1) At left is a list offices/officials covered and (2) below are other topics covered in my blog. Between the two I probably have what you are looking for.
     But after checking both lists if you don't see your question answered send me an e-mail. I am pretty fast at sending a reply: usually the next day (unless I am traveling.)
      If I think your question is of interest to others, I will post the question & answer – but I always change the names and specifics.
      -- Robert Hickey

Mr., Miss, Jr., III, & Names        
Married Women       
Deceased Persons         
People with Two Titles
Post-Nominal Abbreviations and Initials         
Sequence Post-Nominal Abbreviations: Sr., Jr., etc.    
Couples: Private Citizens / Joint Forms of Address 
Couples: U.S. Military / Joint Forms of Address     
Couples: U.S. Officials / Joint Forms of Address      

Former Officials            
Professionals and Academics        

United States Federal Officials, Currently In Office             
United States State Officials, Currently In Office              
United States Municipal Officials, Currently In Office             
       All About The Honorable with U.S. Officials         
       Former United States Officials of all types             
United States Armed Services
       Addressing Active Duty Personnel              
       Addressing Retired Personnel      
       Use of Rank by Retired Personnel      
       Use of Rank by Veterans      

Tribal Officials 
Clergy and Religious Officials           
Canadian Officials         
Australian Officials          
British Officials, Royalty, and Nobility        
Diplomats and International Representatives
Foreign National Officials and Nobility        

Author's Name on His/Her Book       
Business Cards, Names on
Introductions, Names in
Invitations: Names on
Invitations: Names of Armed Service Personnel on        
Name Badges & Tags            
Names on Programs, Signs, & Lists            
Naming a Building or Road            
Place Cards            

Plaques, Awards, Diplomas, Certificates, Names on    
Precedence: Ordering Officials 
Tombstones, Names on      

Site updated by Robert Hickey on 23 March 2020

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