The Judicial Ethics Forum (JEF)

An Academic Discussion of Judicial Ethics, Discipline & Disqualification

Archive for January, 2012

The ABA Considers New Ethics Rules for Judicial Campaign Contributions

Posted by kswisher on Sunday, January, 15, 2012

Following the ABA’s Resolution 107 (re: judicial disqualification and campaign contributions), the ABA’s Ethics and Discipline Committees have released for comment a series of ethics amendments that would add greater transparency to judicial campaign contributions and other campaign support.  A new Model Rule of Professional Conduct would guarantee that lawyers and law firms disclose their combined contributions to either an administrative court agency or the elected judge herself.  (Although the details need some ironing, this is a good idea; read why here.)  Furthermore, an amendment to the Model Code of Judicial Conduct would clarify when campaign contributions and other support (e.g., endorsements or campaign services) should result in the judge’s disclosure and recusal. 

The Committees will hear testimony at the ABA’s meeting next month in New Orleans.  To read the proposed amendments in full, click here.

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Posted in Canon 2, Canon 4, Judicial Campaigns, Judicial Disqualification & Recusal | Leave a Comment »

The Chief Justice Ushers in the New Year with Superior Cheer

Posted by kswisher on Sunday, January, 15, 2012

Although admittedly old news by now, Chief Justice Roberts used his annual report to defend his Court’s indefensible lack of a judicial ethics code.  His defenses playfully distill into these three: (1) the other justices and I are good people so we do not need binding rules; (2) we and our court are special; and (3) ethics codes cannot guarantee ethical behavior (only the good people mentioned in (1) can do that).  The principle of “a government of law and not of [wo/]men” was reversed. 

To read the report, which is only twelve pages, click here.  Interestingly, the report begins and ends with the well-known tale of Judge Landis, without discussing the various conflicts and appearances in that tale; it almost makes one wonder whether the Chief Justice would like to take on a second job as “Commissioner of Baseball.” 

Posted in Judicial Disqualification & Recusal, Judicial Ethics Generally | Leave a Comment »

Bigger Judges Attacking Littler Judges

Posted by kswisher on Sunday, January, 15, 2012

We rarely see the use of one very scary weapon to keep a trial judge in line — indirect criminal contempt.  The Supreme Court of the United States Virgin Islands, however, recently used it.  After a trial judge refused to follow the supreme court’s mandate, criticized the accompanying opinion, and recused himself from the case, the supreme court ordered a show cause hearing.  Even though the special master who then presided over that hearing recommended that the trial judge be acquitted on all counts, the supreme court — i.e., the same court that was repeatedly criticized by the trial judge in his allegedly offensive recusal order — disagreed, found him in contempt, and set a sentencing date.  Although the trial judge’s recusal order did contain overly critical language, the supreme court’s acts are questionable as a matter of due process, cf. Mayberry v. Pennsylvania, 400 U. S. 455, 465-66 (1971); In re Murchison, 349 U.S. 133, 137 (1955), and dangerous to decisional judicial independence (insofar as much of the supreme court’s decision is based on the language in the trial judge’s published order; contempt decisions involving only the act of failing to follow a superior court’s clear order are obviously less problematic).  Perhaps the justices should have recused themselves, or at a minimum, given the judge one warning.   

Hopefully, this weapon will continue to be a rarity.  For the supreme court’s opinion, click here; and for the trial court’s order that offended the supreme court justices enough to impose a criminal conviction on the trial judge, click here

Posted in Canon 1, Canon 2, Canon 3, Judicial Disqualification & Recusal | Leave a Comment »