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Archive for the ‘Judicial Ethics Generally’ Category

National College on Judicial Conduct and Ethics

Posted by kswisher on Thursday, August, 8, 2013

The American Judicature Society will hold its 23rd National College on Judicial Conduct and Ethics in Chicago on October 23-25, 2013. The College will explore ethics and social media, disqualification, the role of public members on judicial conduct commissions, and other interesting topics.  For more information, click here.

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Scholarship: Green and Roiphe on Judicial Independence

Posted by judicialethicsforum on Sunday, August, 4, 2013

The abstract follows:

In this paper, Roiphe & Green argue that the myth of the detached, rational judge, free from emotion runs the risk of undermining the quality of judging, obscuring the transparency of judicial decisions, and deterring the development of diverse judicial styles. The authors explore the history of the myth of the detached judge and how it made its way into rules of judicial conduct. By contextualizing this image of the judiciary, the article concludes that the rules of judicial conduct have come to embody an antiquated understanding of judicial independence and ought to be revised to reflect a more modern concept of the role of judges the American democratic system.

Bruce A. Green & Rebecca Roiphe, Regulating Discourtesy on the Bench: A Study in the Evolution of Judicial Independence, 64 Ann. Surv. Am. L. 497 (2009).

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Scholarship: The Ethics of Judicial Opinion Writing

Posted by judicialethicsforum on Sunday, August, 4, 2013

The abstract puts it concisely: “This article discusses how judges can write honest judicial opinions.”

See Gerald Lebovits et al., Ethical Judicial Opinion Writing, 21 Geo. J. Legal Ethics 237 (2008).

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Adjudicatory Theory

Posted by judicialethicsforum on Sunday, August, 4, 2013

For those interested in theoretical inquiries of adjudication, three interesting works follow:

(1) Larry Solum on a virtue-centered theory of judging.  This work happens to be the most-downloaded-ever article relating to judicial ethics on the Social Science Research Network:

“Virtue jurisprudence” is a normative and explanatory theory of law that utilizes the resources of virtue ethics to answer the central questions of legal theory. The main focus of this essay is the development of a virtue-centered theory of judging. The exposition of the theory begins with exploration of defects in judicial character, such as corruption and incompetence. Next, an account of judicial virtue is introduced. This includes judicial wisdom, a form of phronesis, or sound practical judgment. A virtue-centered account of justice is defended against the argument that theories of fairness are prior to theories of justice. The centrality of virtue as a character trait can be drawn out by analyzing the virtue of justice into constituent elements. These include judicial impartiality (even-handed sympathy for those affected by adjudication) and judicial integrity (respect for the law and concern for its coherence). The essay argues that a virtue-centered theory accounts for the role that virtuous practical judgment plays in the application of rules to particular fact situations. Moreover, it contends that a virtue-centered theory of judging can best account for the phenomenon of lawful judicial disagreement. Finally, a virtue-centered approach best accounts for the practice of equity, departure from the rules based on the judge’s appreciation of the particular characteristics of individual fact situations.

(2) Brad Wendel on Jurisprudence and Judicial Ethics:

The fundamental value in judicial ethics is impartiality. This means that a judge is duty-bound to decide cases on their merits, be open to persuasion, and not influenced by improper considerations. The paradigm case of unethical behavior by a judge is taking a bribe to decide a case in favor of one of the parties. This kind of corruption, which is fortunately rare in many developed countries, is also relatively uninteresting from an intellectual point of view. A more difficult case of failure of impartiality, conceptually speaking, involves a judge who relies on extra-legal factors as the basis for a judicial decision. Making sense of judicial ethics therefore requires a distinction between factors a judge may take into account when rendering a decision, and those which are excluded from consideration. In American legal discourse, this distinction is often stated in terms of law vs. politics, where politics is used to mean any normative view that is not incorporated into the law. In contrast with legal decisions made by actors within the executive branch of government, in which policy and ideological factors may play a role, judicial decisions are supposed to be justified solely on the basis of legal reasons. . . .

More specifically, the paper will discuss two aspects of the law-politics distinction. First, principles of judicial impartiality must take a position on the existence of judicial discretion and the problem of legal interpretation. The second area of discussion is the justification for certain restrictions imposed on judges by positive law (rules of judicial conduct, statutes, and court rules) often misleadingly referred to as rules of judicial ethics. At least in the United States, many of these restrictions purport to regulate bias and the risk that judges will not be impartial. Courts applying the rules governing judicial conduct often regulate prophylactically, by disqualifying judges from presiding over certain types of cases, based on conduct that is taken to be evidence of bias. However, the discussion of the Hart/Dworkin debate shows that the political viewpoints of judges may necessarily influence the outcomes of cases. In Dworkin’s view, judging is inherently a political practice, because ascertaining the content of law is impossible without resort to normative political argument. In Hart’s view, by contrast, it is possible to ascertain the content of law empirically, but there may be a further normative question about the best way to prioritize or balance competing legal considerations.

I believe the right approach to judicial ethics is to focus on the application side of the distinction between the content of law (which may or may not be susceptible of determination on the basis of social facts) and standards for its application. Where there are multiple plausible interpretations of existing cases, statutes, and other applicable legal norms, all we can reasonably expect is that a judge deliberate in good faith and reach the conclusion she believes represents the best reading of the governing law. The subject of judicial ethics is essentially an attempt to flesh out the idea of judging in good faith. That, I suggest, is fundamentally about being prepared to give reasons in justification of a judicial decision.

(3) And Brennan-Marquez on Judging Pain:

Adjudication often stems from painful origins. Yet the process of interpreting pain has inspired virtually no commentary. By omitting pain-regard from their accounts of the “right-remedy gap”, scholars have been unable to account for cases that, (1) originate from an acute instance of suffering, and (2) involve a tension between competing legal principles, one militating in favor of redress, the other in favor of dismissal. The Article examines three such cases in detail: Snyder versus Phelps, Brown versus Plata, and Connick versus Thompson.

The cases are experientially upsetting. They force the Court to contend with the limitations of its remedial capacity at the very moment when redress seems, because of the severity of pain, most urgent. The Article profiles the way different Justices respond to this condition and, from there, develops an account of judicial pain-regard. It concludes by arguing that in our legal order, defined as it is by irreconcilable but independently virtuous commitments, pain-regard is not only wise; it is necessary.

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New Survey Addressing Procedural Justice and Judicial Performance Evaluation

Posted by judicialethicsforum on Sunday, August, 4, 2013

Here is the abstract:

This paper presents a questionnaire that is a work in progress. The questionnaire is designed primarily to assess lawyers’ perceptions of the procedural justice offered by judicialsettlement sessions in individual civil, non-family cases. The questionnaire may be used by: judges seeking confidential feedback on their management of settlement sessions; individual courts or court systems seeking systematic information regarding their judges’ settlement efforts; and larger empirical research projects. To explain the need for the questionnaire, the paper provides a brief contextual history of judicial settlement in the U.S., including the evolution of relevant rules of civil procedure and judicial ethics provisions and the current state of judicial performance evaluation. Because the logic of the questionnaire is grounded in procedural justice, the paper also examines the procedural elements that most reliably lead to perceptions of procedural fairness: the opportunity for voice; respectful treatment from the decision-maker; even-handed treatment by the decision-maker and neutrality of the forum; and trustworthy consideration from the decision-maker.

The questionnaire is designed to expand upon the current state of knowledge regarding the procedural justice provided by judicial settlement by asking questions designed to identify: 1) the concrete judicial actions that occur during settlement sessions; 2) the relationship between these concrete actions and lawyers’ (and clients’) perceptions of procedural and substantive justice; and 3) the influence of certain contextual factors upon such perceptions (e.g., whether the settlement judge is the presiding judge, whether thejudicial action occurred in joint session or caucus, and whether the parties suggested or requested the settlement session). The lawyer questionnaire is the first of a planned set of questionnaires on judicial settlement that will also include questionnaires for clients and judges.

Nancy Welsh et al., The Application of Procedural Justice Research to Judicial Actions and Techniques in Settlement Sessions.

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Comparative Judicial Ethics

Posted by judicialethicsforum on Sunday, May, 19, 2013

To compare several similarities and differences between state or federal judicial ethics and three diverse venues (namely, Canada, Japan, and North Carolina), see below:

(1) Canada: Judicial Disqualification Under the “Reasonable Apprehension of Bias” Test

The “reasonable apprehension of bias” test for judicial disqualification has been a fixture of Canadian law for many years, despite a considerable amount of litigation concerning judicial impartiality. The test itself has remained fundamentally unaltered and is well accepted in the jurisprudence. Unfortunately, the application of the test continues to generate difficulties for judges who need to use it to make decisions in marginal cases. Based on previously published doctrinal and empirical research, our goal in the present paper is to suggest modifications to the test that will better explain the existing jurisprudence and make it easier for judges to understand when recusal is or is not necessary in marginal cases. We begin considering the advantages of and suggest that in order to be useful, any refinement to the test must to the greatest extent possible preserve those advantages. In the second part of the paper we consider why inconsistent application of the test in marginal cases is a concern. This is followed by a more detailed consideration of the ways in which the existing test, and the jurisprudence explaining and applying it, are problematic. The fourth part of the paper proposes a modification to the “reasonable apprehension of bias” test that is designed to address these shortcomings while preserving the key advantages of the existing test.

Jula Hughes & Philip Bryden, Refining the Reasonable Apprehension of Bias Test: Providing Judges Better Tools for Addressing Judicial Disqualification, 36 Dalhousie L.J. (forthcoming 2013) (including references to an interesting survey of Canadian judges’ recusal preferences and practices).

(2) Japan: Judicial Disqualification and Meanings of Fairness and Due Process

This article considers how Japanese judges have articulated the meaning of fairness in judicial decisions. The provisions in Japan’s Code of Civil Procedure, which provide for disqualification of judges and for direct party challenges to judges’ involvement in cases, explicitly require judges to weigh the fairness of the justice process in the particular circumstances of the cases before them. These cases provide a unique window for understanding the meaning of fairness, or what U.S. scholars might call due process, in Japanese jurisprudence.

In fact, the meaning of fairness has earned little explanation from Japan’s judges in their formal jurisprudential voice. Research uncovered only ten published case decisions under the current Constitution and Code of Civil Procedure that address the standards here. In all but one, the results were denials of the petitions and refusals to remove the judge. Early decisions, in particular, demonstrated a narrow acknowledgement of the potential for bias and were resolved via a formalistic reasoning that paid little regard for public perceptions.

While the record of judicial disqualification and challenge cases shows a history of harsh determinations in the early post-war years in Japan, more recent decisions emerging in the context of the massive changes to Japan’s justice system since 2001 suggest that judicial system reform has had a modest, but positive impact with regards to the quality of procedural justice available to civil litigants in Japan. In particular, an April 2011 decision by the Japanese Supreme Court’s Second Petty Bench, which clearly acknowledges a requirement of due process in civil procedure, offers optimism for further improvement in years ahead.

Mark Levin, Circumstances that Would Prejudice Impartiality: The Meaning of Fairness in Japanese Jurisprudence, Hastings International & Comparative L. Rev. (forthcoming 2013).

(3) North Carolina: The Appearance of Impropriety

The ABA Model Code of Judicial Conduct and the judicial codes of conduct in nearly every jurisdiction admonish judges to avoid the appearance of impropriety. The North Carolina Code of Judicial Conduct likewise contained a similar prohibition until 2003, when the North Carolina Supreme Court removed the language and made related amendments to the Code. Although North Carolina is clearly an outlier in this regard, two questions remain: first, whether North Carolina judges are still required to consider appearances in performing their duties; and second, whether judicial codes of conduct should proscribe such a standard at all.

To answer this latter question, this Article draws upon the social psychology theories of cognitive bias and procedural justice. These two theories work together to impact how judges arrive at decisions and how litigants will perceive and respond to those decisions. Both theories militate in favor of including a robust appearance standard in a judicial code of conduct. Moreover, the changes to the North Carolina Code in 2003 simultaneously exacerbated the negative effects of cognitive bias and decreased litigants’ perceptions of procedural justice in state courts.

But reinstating the appearance of impropriety language to the North Carolina Code alone will not fully ensure judicial propriety, or even the appearance of propriety. Thus, this Article illustrates how an understanding of cognitive bias and procedural justice can inform the introduction of other reforms, using the issue of judicial involvement in plea bargaining and sentencing as an example of how these theories may be applied.

Jon P. McClanahan, Restoring the Appearance of Propriety to the Judiciary, N.C. L. Rev. (forthcoming 2013).

Posted in Canon 1, Judicial Disqualification & Recusal, Judicial Ethics Generally | Leave a Comment »

Sample on Supreme Court Recusal

Posted by judicialethicsforum on Sunday, May, 19, 2013

Outstanding Professor James Sample has published an interesting review of Supreme Court recusal practice (or lack thereof).  Portions of the abstract and a link to Professor Sample’s full work follow:

For Justices of the U.S. Supreme Court, controversies pitting personal conflicts — whether actual or merely alleged — against the constitutional commitment to the rule of law increasingly form the basis of a caustic and circular national dialogue that generates substantially more heat than light. While the profile of these controversies is undoubtedly waxing, the underlying tensions stretch back at least to Marbury v. Madison. . . .

The study yields a layered picture that is rich in historical imagery, anecdote, and analytically-critical context. In this respect, the Article includes, but is not limited to, treatments of the midnight Justices in Marbury; the Steel Seizure case and the “damned fool” whom Truman felt was the “biggest mistake he had made” as President; Thurgood Marshall’s long arc with the NAACP; perhaps the best-known duck-hunting trip of all time; Justice O’Connor’s election night outburst preceding Bush v. Gore; profound matters of issue identification involving Justices Ginsburg and Breyer; and finally the controversies surrounding the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, including the undisclosed income related to Virginia Thomas’s work opposing the health care legislation and Justice Kagan’s ill-advised e-mails including the memorable “I hear they have the votes, Larry!!”

The exploration serves as a navigational guide to the difficult but necessary task of separating the shrill cries from the serious constitutional concern of genuine Supreme Court conflict. The Article situates the analysis of Supreme Court disqualification practice, and particularly the circumstances involving Justices Thomas and Kagan vis-a`-vis the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, within the broader, enduring legal dichotomy of rules as opposed to standards. Pointing to Chief Justice Roberts’s recent, relatively bare assertion that when it comes to disqualification, the Supreme Court is simply constitution- ally and pragmatically different, the Article asserts that while the Chief Justice’s argument is neither emotionally nor intellectually satisfying, in an imperfect world, his argument is also entirely correct. . . .

James Sample, Supreme Court Recusal from Marbury to the Modern Day, 26 Geo. J. Legal Ethics 95 (2013).

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Judges’ Social Media Use

Posted by judicialethicsforum on Sunday, May, 19, 2013

The American Judicature Society has published a short-but-helpful list of “do’s and don’t’s” for judges considering or using social media.  AJS concludes:

Social media use is fraught with peril for all users, but more so for judges as it complicates both their personal lives and judicial roles. A judge cannot be a casual user of social media and must be willing to take whatever steps are necessary to comply with the code of judicial conduct. Each judge will have to decide for himself or herself if the benefits of online social media outweigh the inevitable risks and constant vigilance.

Click here for the full editorial.

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New Scholarship: Goldschmidt and Stalans on Self-Represented Litigants and Perceived Fairness

Posted by judicialethicsforum on Thursday, February, 21, 2013

This piece features an interesting survey of Canadian lawyers and their perception of judges’ impartiality when judges assist self-represented litigants.  In addition to that continuing question of the appropriate level of assistance, the piece offers some comparative observations on the American and Canadian law and experience:

How much assistance should a trial judge provide a self-represented litigant [SRL] before the judge’s impartiality will be reasonably questioned? This question has been of continuing concern to both the bench and bar ever since the rise of the pro se litigation movement in the late 1990s, particularly in the context of “mixed” cases involving an SRL and a represented party. Case law and ethics codes provide inconsistent decisions and vague guidelines for judges, who must balance their duty to provide reasonable assistance with their duty to ensure a fair trial for all parties. This paper reports the results of a survey administered to 210 Canadian family law practitioners who were presented with 16 hypothetical scenarios involving an SRL and a represented party. Respondents indicated their views regarding the impartiality and helpfulness of the trial judge in each scenario, involving various procedural defaults by the SRL and different forms of judicial assistance or lack thereof. The results indicate that lawyers’ perceptions of a judge’s impartiality are affected, inter alia, by the favourability of the outcome for the SRL, and whether the assistance provided dealt with procedural or substantive matters. Future research is needed to determine whether a consensus can be established regarding perceptions of lawyers, lay persons, and judges regarding which forms of assistance are reasonable and required, permissible, or impermissible.

Jona Goldschmidt & Loretta Stalans, Lawyers’ Perceptions of the Fairness of Judicial Assistance to Self-Represented Litigants, Windsor Yearbook of Access to Justice, Vol. 30, No. 1, 2012.

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New Scholarship: Lubet and Diegel on Supreme Court Ethics Reform

Posted by judicialethicsforum on Thursday, February, 21, 2013

This fairly recent research paper seeks ethics and disqualification reform in the Supreme Court:

The United States Supreme Court is the only court in the United States without a clearly defined ethics code. In the wake of the controversy over possible leaks from justices’ chambers following the decision in NFIB v. Sebelius, and in light of legislation recently introduced in Congress, this paper suggests two reforms for the Supreme Court. First, the time has finally come for the Court to adopt a comprehensive Code of Conduct. Second, the Court should alter its current recusal practice – in which decisions are made exclusively by individual justices – and instead resolve disqualification motions by a vote of the full court.

Steven Lubet & Clare Diegel, Stonewalling, Leaks, and Counter-Leaks: Scotus Ethics in the Wake of NFIB v. Sebelius (Sept. 10, 2012).

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New Scholarship: Benedetto Neitz on Socioeconomic Bias in the Judiciary

Posted by judicialethicsforum on Tuesday, September, 25, 2012

Prof. Michele Benedetto Neitz (Golden Gate) has posted this insightful essay on judges’ implicit socioeconomic bias.  One of the essay’s motivators was Chief Judge Kozinski’s recent dissent from a denial of rehearing, in which he in effect accused the panel of socioeconomic bias.   See United States v. Pineda-Moreno (implying that the panel drove BMWs and engaged in “unselfconscious cultural elitism”).  Prof. Benedetto Neitz’s work can be viewed here, and the abstract follows:

Judges hold a prestigious place in our judicial system, and they earn double the income of the  average American household. How does the privileged socioeconomic status of judges affect their decisions on the bench? This article examines the ethical implications of what Ninth Circuit Chief Judge Alex Kozinski recently called the “unselfconscious cultural elitism” of judges. This elitism can manifest as implicit socioeconomic bias.

Despite the attention paid to income inequality, implicit bias research and judicial bias, no other scholar to date  has fully examined the ramifications of implicit socioeconomic bias on the  bench. The article explains that socioeconomic bias may be more obscure than other forms of bias, but its impact on judicial decision-making processes can  create very real harm for disadvantaged populations. The article reviews social  science studies confirming that implicit bias can be prevalent even in people who profess to hold no explicit prejudices. Thus, even those judges who believe their wealthy backgrounds play no role in their judicial deliberations may be influenced by implicit socioeconomic bias. The article verifies the existence of implicit socioeconomic bias on the part of judges through examination of recent  Fourth Amendment and child custody cases. These cases reveal that judges can and do favor wealthy litigants over those living in poverty, with significant negative consequences for low-income people.

The article contends that the ABA Model Code of Judicial Conduct (the “Code”), the document designed to regulate the behavior of judges, fails to effectively eliminate implicit socioeconomic bias. The article recommends innovative revisions designed to strengthen the Code’s prohibition against bias, and suggests improvements to judicial training materials in this context. These changes will serve to increase judicial awareness of the potential for implicit socioeconomic bias in their judicial decisions, and will bring this issue to the forefront of the judicial agenda.

Michele Benedetto Neitz, Socioeconomic Bias in the Judiciary, Cleveland St. L. Rev. (forthcoming 2013).

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Chief Judges and Ex Parte Contacts with Law Enforcement

Posted by judicialethicsforum on Tuesday, September, 25, 2012

Many readers are likely familiar with the Shalom Rubashkin case, which is now the subject of a short documentary.  The case involves many fascinating and frightening details, but of particular relevance are the ex parte contacts: the chief judge met for months with law enforcement planning the raid of Rubashkin’s business.  The judge did not disclose the extent of those planning sessions to the defendant or defense counsel; the contacts were instead revealed through a later public records request.   Ethics Experts Steve Gillers and Mark Harrison submitted affidavits indicating that both the prosecutors and the judge misstepped ethically.  The Supreme Court will soon consider whether to grant cert (it should), in a petition filed by Paul Clement.  The new documentary follows:

Additionally, some recent press about the film and the case can be viewed here.

Posted in Canon 2, Judicial Disqualification & Recusal, Judicial Ethics Generally | Leave a Comment »

Leib et al. on Judges as Fiduciaries

Posted by judicialethicsforum on Friday, May, 11, 2012

Here is a very interesting new piece on judicial theory from Leib (Fordham) and coauthors.  The abstract follows:

For centuries, legal theorists and political philosophers have unsuccessfully sought a unified theory of judging able to account for the diverse, and oftentimes conflicting, responsibilities judges possess. How do we reconcile the call of judicial independence — a function of a judge’s obligation to uphold the rule of law — with that of judicial responsiveness — the obligation that, as a branch of government in a democratic polity, judges must ensure that the law not derogate too far from the will of the people? This paper reveals how the law governing fiduciary relationships sheds new light on this age-old quandary, and therefore, on the very nature of the judicial office itself. In so doing, the paper first explores the routinely overlooked, yet deeply embedded historical provenance of our judges-as-fiduciaries framework in American political thought and in the framing of the U.S. Constitution. It then explains why a fiduciary theory of judging offers important insight into what it means to be a judge in a democracy, while providing practical guidance in resolving a range of controversial and hotly contested legal issues surrounding judicial performance, such as judicial ethics at the Supreme Court, campaign contributions in state judicial elections, and the role of public opinion in constitutional interpretation.

For the full article, click here; Leib et al., A Fiduciary Theory of Judging, 101 Cal. L. Rev. (forthcoming 2013). 

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Swisher on Recusal and the Supreme Court’s Carrigan Decision

Posted by judicialethicsforum on Friday, May, 11, 2012

Prof. Swisher (Phoenix) has posted this essay about Carrigan, recusal, and related constitutional theory.  Here is the abstract:

Something good and something bad happened recently in government and judicial ethics; no one has truly noticed yet for some reason. The Supreme Court all but banned First Amendment analysis as applied to recusal laws, both legislative and judicial. That, actually, is the good thing, or so I argue. The bad thing is that the Court, in doing so, used a geriatric approach to constitutional theory. The approach is unduly reverent of anything “old;” and old is not limited to the practices of the Founding Fathers, but also includes “traditional” practices within some undefined range. But what is old is not necessarily wise, and a theory to the contrary leads to degenerative results in general and in ethics in particular, or so I argue further. I conclude with a return to the positive, hoping that the Court’s path may have inadvertently sparked a viable conceptual foundation for judicial recusal law and practice, which of course, have received much general press and scholarly attention of late.

For the full essay, click here; Keith Swisher, Recusal, Government Ethics, and Superannuated Constitutional Theory, 72 Md. L. Rev. (forthcoming Dec. 2012). 

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Geyh on Judicial Impartiality

Posted by judicialethicsforum on Friday, May, 11, 2012

The judicial ethics force known as Prof. Geyh (Indiana-Bloomington) has posted this interesting research on the differing uses of judicial impartiality.  Here is the abstract:

Scholars have traditionally analyzed judicial impartiality piecemeal, in disconnected debates on discrete topics. As a consequence, current understandings of judicial impartiality are balkanized and muddled. This article seeks to reconceptualize judicial impartiality comprehensively, across contexts. In an era when “we are all legal realists now,” perfect impartiality — the complete absence of bias or prejudice — is at most an ideal, with “impartial enough” becoming, of necessity, the realistic goal. Understanding when imperfectly impartial is nonetheless impartial enough is aided by conceptualizing judicial impartiality in three distinct dimensions: A procedural dimension in which impartiality affords parties a fair hearing; a political dimension in which impartiality promotes public confidence in the courts; and an ethical dimension in which impartiality is a standard of good conduct core to a judge’s self-definition. The seeming contradictions that cut across contexts in which judicial impartiality problems arise, can for the most part be explained with reference to the dimensions those problems inhabit and the constraints under which regulation in those dimensions are subject. Thus, being impartial enough to assure parties a fair hearing in the procedural dimension may or may not be impartial enough to satisfy the public in the political dimension, which may or may not be impartial enough to ensure that judges are behaving honorably in the ethical dimension. Analyzing partiality problems through the lens of the dimensions they occupy not only resolves many of the imponderables that have long plagued the subject, but also reveals a distinct trend, in which impartiality is being transformed from a value traditionally regulated largely by judges and the legal establishment in the procedural and ethical dimensions, to one that is increasingly the province of the political dimension, where it is regulated by the public and its elected representatives. By situating impartiality at the crossroads of judicial procedure, ethics and politics, this article offers a new perspective, not just on judicial impartiality, but also on the role of the American judiciary in the administration of justice and the political process.

For the full article, click here.

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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 »

Membership, Discrimination, and Diversity

Posted by kswisher on Monday, December, 5, 2011

Canon 2C prohibits judges from “hold[ing] membership in any organization that practices invidious discrimination on the basis of race, sex, religion, or national origin.”  Six months ago, we wrote about the sharply divided decision of the Sixth Circuit Judicial Council, which had concluded that Chief Bankruptcy Judge George Paine did not commit misconduct by remaining a member of an exclusively white-male country club.  The Judicial Conference of the United States has now officially disagreed.  In particular, its Committee on Judicial Conduct and Disability reviewed the decision and “easily” determined that the judge’s country club “invidiously discriminates against women and African Americans for purposes of Canon 2C and, consequently, that Judge Paine’s membership in the organization runs afoul of that Canon.”

The opinion is worth a close read for many reasons, only two of which follow.  (It is interesting, for example, that the Committee twice criticizes the Sixth Circuit for failing to investigate fully the matter and thus basing its decision on incomplete information; the Committee then does nothing further and bases its decision on the same information.  But let’s leave that problem for another day and focus on the content of this important opinion.)  First, the opinion is worth reading for the footnotes.  As is often the case, textual footnotes are among the most thought-provoking (or sometimes mind-numbing) part of opinions.  On the point that the Sixth Circuit’s investigation was inadequate, for example, the Committee expressed regret that the Sixth Circuit “appeared to resolve ambiguities in the record against the complainant.”  The Committee’s point is a good one, but is it clear that ambiguities (which invariably exist and persist) should be resolved in favor of complainants?  Perhaps the answer to that question should vary with the Canon at issue.  For Canon 2C, for instance, the respondent judge has voluntarily chosen to join or remain in the allegedly discriminatory organization, the judge will presumably have the best access to the organization’s membership rosters and policies, and the Canon is concerned in part with appearances.  In those circumstances, then, perhaps it might be permissible to shift the burden to the judge to prove that the organization does not discriminate — and perhaps that the organization also does not reasonably appear to discriminate. 

Canon 2C’s official commentary, on which the Committee later relied and built, does contain a form of burden-shifting when a judge joins or remains in a non-diverse organization, if “reasonable persons with knowledge of all the relevant circumstances would expect the membership would be diverse in the absence of invidious discrimination.”  “Relevant factors” in that regard “include the size and nature of the organization and the diversity of persons in the locale who might reasonably be considered potential members.”  Here is the Committee’s application: “Nashville, Tennessee, is one of the major cosmopolitan cities of the Southern United States. In particular, it boasts a 27% African American population. Its female population is just over 50%. Although few organizations perfectly mirror the population trends of their surrounding locales, a member of the public would reasonably expect to see at least some women and African Americans among Belle Meade’s Resident Membership barring (1) invidious discrimination or (2) something unique about the Club — ‘such as that the organization is dedicated to the preservation of religious, ethnic or cultural values of legitimate common interest to its members,’ [Canon 2C Commentary] — that would suggest otherwise. There is, however, nothing about Belle Meade’s stated aims or activities that provides any such justification for the total absence of any female or African American Resident Members. . . .  Naturally, there is no shortage of women or — as Judge Paine proclaimed in his 1990 letter to the Club’s Board — African Americans fitting that description.”  Thus, absent someone (presumably Judge Paine) coming forward with proof to the contrary (which is obviously unlikely in this case because Judge Paine believed that the club’s policies were indeed problematic), the judge’s membership may be determined to be misconduct.

Later in the footnotes, the Committee also conceded a bombshell: “To our knowledge, Canon 2C has never before been enforced.”  To place that statement in its context, Canon 2C, in its current form, has been on the books for twenty years.  Now, such shocking statements permit one’s optimistic or pessimistic nature to come out: judicial ethics regulation has finally matured to the point of enforcing a critical rule (and hopefully others like it) designed to ensure an actually and apparently impartial judiciary; or judicial ethics regulation has failed for twenty years to enforce such a critical rule.  Indeed, on the pessimistic side of the ledger, it is noteworthy that — despite finding a violation of Canon 2C — the Committee failed to impose any discipline:  because Judge Paine has expressed an intention to retire soon, and “because this decision represents the first enforcement of Canon 2C, there is no cause at this point for us to take disciplinary action.”  (Indeed, the Committee went further, proclaiming that the judge will retire with his “reputation . . . intact.”)  I have noticed this phenomenon several times in discipline decisions involving both lawyers and judges, although most of the cases are older ones.  The idea seems sound in a common-law based sanction regime: we should apply the (new) rule only retroactively because, in part, respondents necessarily could not have had notice of the rule in advance to guide their conduct.  The idea seems significantly less sound in a code-based sanction regime (i.e., the one that we have had for a long time): Canon 2C has always been publicly available and has always prohibited this behavior by its terms.  Why, then, do we give the first respondent a free pass?  We can come up with a few reasons, but because the Committee offered none (save the impending retirement), we have no one with which to argue.   

Yet another footnote is interesting and particularly so for sex-segregated organizations.  Judge Paine’s club (Belle Meade) did have a “lady membership,” which was priced less (but included no voting rights).  The Committee noted that “insofar as Lady Membership is preferable to other forms of membership, the exclusion of men from that category arguably constitutes another form of gender discrimination under the Code.”

Second, the opinion is worth reading because it offered some guidance to judges considering joining an organization: “Any judge considering membership in an organization should take steps to ensure that such membership would not appear improper. Naturally, those steps will differ to some degree depending on the particular circumstances. But we expect them to include, in all cases, a survey of the group’s membership, constitution, and bylaws. If ‘reasonable persons with knowledge of all the relevant circumstances would expect that the membership would be diverse in the absence of invidious discrimination,’ but the membership nevertheless is not diverse, the judge should err on the side of caution and decline membership.”  The Committee also offered a fuller vision of the two-year remediation exception (i.e., that a judge has up to two years to fix a discriminatory organization to which s/he already belongs): “The two-year qualification must be read in light of Canon 2C’s safeguarding of the appearance of propriety. Thus, we believe that this provision is available only if a judge determines that diversification efforts by the judge could reasonably succeed. In those circumstances, he or she may continue to hold membership in diligent pursuit of those efforts for a reasonable period of time not to exceed two years.”

The full opinion can be read here.

Posted in Canon 2, Judicial Ethics Generally | 1 Comment »

New Drug Court Study and the Effectiveness of Ethics

Posted by kswisher on Sunday, August, 7, 2011

An ambitious study of drug courts was recently completed.  Funded by the National Institute of Justice, several collaborating organizations analyzed more than twenty drug courts over a five-year period.  Not surprisingly, the study contains many interesting observations, but what is particularly noteworthy is the correlation between judicial ethics and the effectiveness of those drug courts.  That is, almost all of the following findings would have been required or (at a minimum) encouraged as a matter of judicial ethics:

Role of the Judge: The primary mechanism by which drug courts reduce substance use and crime is through the judge. Drug court offenders believe that their judge treated them more fairly than the comparison group, including demonstrating greater respect and interest in them as individuals and greater opportunities to express their own voice during the proceedings. Furthermore, when offenders have more positive attitudes toward the judge, they have better outcomes. This was true across all offender subgroups when examining demographics, drug use history, criminality, and mental health. A separate analysis drawing upon the results of structured courtroom observations found, similarly, that drug courts whose judge was rated by members of the research team as exhibiting a more positive judicial demeanor (e.g., respectful, fair, attentive, enthusiastic, consistent/predictable, caring, and knowledgeable) produced better outcomes than other drug courts. Both analyses reaffirmed the central role of the judge.

Judges may well have performed these duties as a matter of principle, but it is doubly rewarding to see the principles leading to good results.  In light of the above conclusions, the study recommends these four points for drug court judges:

  • Hold frequent judicial status hearings; in light of previous research on this topic, consider increasing the frequency of status hearings for “high risk” participants in particular.
  • If the jurisdiction allows it, choose drug court judges carefully. Drug courts will be best served if administrators intentionally assign judges to the drug court who are committed to the model and interested in serving in this role.
  • Monitor “client satisfaction” with the judge.
  • Train judges on best practices regarding judicial demeanor and regarding how to communicate effectively with program participants.

The study can be found here.

Posted in Canon 2, Canon 3, Judicial Ethics Generally | Leave a Comment »

New Scholarship: Rotunda on White, Caperton, and Citizens United

Posted by kswisher on Sunday, August, 7, 2011

Professor Ron Rotunda’s most recent article, Constitutionalizing Judicial Ethics: Judicial Elections after Republican Party of Minnesota v. White, Caperton, and Citizens United, can be found here, and the abstract follows:

Recent times have witnessed strong lobbying efforts to move states away from electing judges to appointing them. Opponents of judicial elections repeatedly argue that the general public does not want judges who are bought by contributors. Of course, voters do not want those judges, yet the electorate repeatedly rejects efforts to move away from an elected judiciary.

When voters do choose judges, the conventional wisdom assures us that the results will be less partisan if the judges run in nonpartisan elections – where candidates run but do not disclose their political affiliation. However, empirical evidence does not support this frequent claim. Studies repeatedly show that judges elected in partisan elections are substantially more likely to be independent than judges selected in nonpartisan elections.

People who bemoan judicial elections often attack two U.S. Supreme Court decisions that appear to politicize the judiciary. One is Republican Party v. White (2002), which recognized the free speech rights of judicial candidates. They similarly criticize Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission (2010) as a pro-business decision that recognizes first amendment rights of corporations or individuals to spend money to engage in their political speech favoring their candidates. Yet, White simply evens the playing field by overturning restrictions that were really a form of incumbent-protection legislation. So too, the controversy surrounding Citizens United is misplaced. It does not favor business at the expense of unions. Instead it gives all entities, including unions and individuals, free speech rights that the government cannot restrict, which is why the ACLU supported the position of the petitioner and opposed the Federal Election Commission’s regulation. Still others view Caperton v. A.T. Massey Coal Company, Inc. (2009) as a case that will force judges to disqualify themselves if a party is related to an independent group that had supported the judicial candidate. It is too soon to judge the effect of Caperton, but there are plenty of indications in the five-person majority that the case has little growth.

It i[s] inevitable that money will flow into political campaigns: indeed, economic studies wonder why the major players do not invest more in these campaigns, given that so much money rides on the outcome. As long as politicians and judges decide billion dollar issues, there will be multi-million dollar campaigns. Fortunately, the empirical evidence to support the assertion that those who pays the money gets the judge they wants is decidedly mixed.

Ronald D. Rotunda, Constitutionalizing Judicial Ethics: Judicial Elections After Republican Party of Minnesota v. White, Caperton, and Citizens United, 64 Ark. L. Rev. 1 (2011).

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

New Scholarship: Janoski-Haehlen on Social Media Use and the Courts

Posted by judicialethicsforum on Sunday, August, 7, 2011

Emily M. Janoski-Haehlen recently posted a draft of The Courts Are All a‘Twitter’: The Implications of Social Media Use in the Courts.  Her draft can be found here, and a general abstract follows:

Tweet, poke, post, friend, like, blog, link, comment, and share: the opportunities to communicate electronically using social media tools seem never ending. Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, MySpace, and LinkedIn are just a few of the social media sites that allow people to communicate and “connect” with others across the world in seconds. E-mail and sending text messages are two other ways to communicate electronically, but neither e-mails nor text messages can keep up with the speed, accessibility, and popularity of social media. Social media is entrenched in our lives as evidenced by the fact that adult profiles on online social media sites are up from only 8% in 2005 to 47% in 2010. The legal profession has also jumped aboard the social media bandwagon with 40% of judges reporting they are on social media sites and 56% of attorneys reported having a presence on social media sites. Whichever “social networking” or communication method is chosen by an individual, the technology has made that communication instantaneous. Unfortunately, social media communication is also dangerous to the integrity of the courts.

Emily M. Janoski-Haehlen, The Courts Are All a‘Twitter’: The Implications of Social Media Use in the Courts, 46 Val. U. L. Rev. (forthcoming 2011).

Posted in Judicial Ethics Generally | Leave a Comment »