Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Judges and the Code of Judicial Conduct - Judicial Civility and Decorum

By John DiMotto
In addition to the Judicial Code of Conduct in SCR 60, the provisions of SCR 62 - Standards of Courtesy and Decorum for the Courts of Wisconsin - also apply to judges. In many respects, the dictates of SCR 62 are the foundation for SCR 60.
SCR 62.01 sets forth the scope of the standards in SCR 62. It states that they are adopted "to enhance the administration of justice by promoting good manners and civility among all who participate in the administration of justice in [Wisconsin], are applicable to judges, court commissioners, lawyers court personnel, and the public in all Wisconsin courts."
SCR 62.02 sets forth the actual standards of conduct. They are standards to be followed at all times, regardless of how trying the circumstances may be. Under these standards:
1) Judges must maintain a cordial and respectful demeanor and be guided by a fundamental sense of integrity and fair play in all their professional activities.
2) Judges must be civil in their dealings with one another and with the public and conduct all court and court related proceedings, whether written or oral, ... with civility and respect for each of the participants.
3) Judges must abstain from making disparaging, demeaning or sarcastic remarks or comments about [one another, lawyers, court commissioners, parties, witnesses, etc.]
4) Judges must abstain from any conduct that may be characterized as uncivil, abrasive, abusive, hostile or obstructive.
5) Judges must ... promote proper conduct and address disorder and disruptions.
6) Judges must be considerate and reasonable in scheduling matters.
7) Judges must conduct themselves in a manner which demonstrates sensitivity to the necessity of preserving decorum and the integrity of the judicial process.
8) Judges must be punctual in convening proceedings.
These standards are not merely aspirational but must be followed regardless of the circumstances. Any judge can tell you how, at times, lawyers, parties, and witnesses "push the envelope" and try the patience of the court. However, judges must not succumb to the pressures of the moment. Judges must maintain an equilibrium of patience lest they lose control of the proceedings. Lose of control will result in chaos, lead to injustice and may subject a judge to potential discipline. A review of Wisconsin Judicial Commission Annual Reports reveals that each year complaints of demeanor/injudicious temperament rank near the top of all complaints made against judges.
These standards do not prevent a judge from imposing sanctions on inappropriate conduct or behavior of lawyers, parties, witnesses or the public in the courtroom. At times, judges can and must be "forceful" in taking control of a situation in the courtroom lest "all hell break loose." These standards do not tie judges hands or prevent judges from taking action. They do, however, require judges to do so in a dignified and respectful manner. To address incivility with incivility promotes incivility. Judges must rise above the fray, take control and set an example for all. Justice requires nothing less.

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