Sunday, June 13, 2010

Judges and the Code of Judicial Conduct - Extra-Judicial Activities (Part One)

By John DiMotto
SCR 60.05 makes it clear that in non-judicial activities, a judge must be very careful that he/she does not:
1) cast reasonable doubt of the judge's capacity to act impartially as a judge;
2) demean the judicial office;
3) interfere with the proper performance of judicial duties.
So what does this mean?
Judges can speak, write, lecture, teach and engage in activities outside of the courtroom concerning the law, the legal system, the administration of justice and nonlegal subjects. For example, a judge can participate in continuing legal education for lawyers; speak about the law publicly and privately to groups, appear at and speak at public hearings on matters concerning the law, the legal system or administration of justice.
A judge may not accept appointment to governmental committees or commissions concerned with issues of fact or policy on matters other than the improvement of the law, although a judge may represent government on ceremonial occasions or in connection with historical, educational or cultural activities.
A judge may serve as an officer, director, trustee or nonlegal advisor of an organization or governmental agency devoted to the improvement of the law... or nonprofit educational, religious, charitable, fraternal or sororal or civic organizations so long as it is likely that the organization will not engage in proceedings that will come before the judge or engage frequently in adversary proceedings in the court of which the judge is a member.
A judge, in any capacity,
1) may assist an organization in planning fund-raising activities and participate in the management of the organizations funds but,
2) may not personally participate in the solicitation of funds except from other judges over whom the judge does not exercise supervisory or appellate authority;
3) may make recommendations to fund-granting organizations on projects and programs concerning the law, legal system or administration of justice;
4) may not personally participate in membership solicitation if it may be perceived as coercive or if it is essentially a fund-raising mechanism.
In essence, judges may engage in activities related to the law so long as they are not direct fund-raising activities. Judges may engage in some activities not related to the law so long as they will not end up before the judge or so long as they do not compromise the judges ability to be fair and impartial in judicial work. Judges may not act as legal advisors to organizations.
Judges live in the world. Judges need not isolate themselves from their communities. However, judges may not engage in activities that will be coercive and they may not engage in activities that are fund-raising in nature, not even for charity.
Perception is very important. The appearance of impropriety is as bad as engaging in impropriety. Judges must put themselves above the fray. Outside of the courtroom they may advocate for the law and must stay away from activities that put their ability to be fair in question.
A judge must always remember that most people hold judges in high regard. Most people do not want to upset a judge. People want to be on the good side of a judge. The title "judge" bring with it great power and awesome responsibility. The Code of Judicial Conduct with respect to extra-judicial activities exists to guide judges to avoid putting them in compromising situations.

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