Judicial ethical code

March 18, 2009
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The Judicial Conference of the United States adopted a revised Code of Conduct yesterday, with one revision focusing on judicial impropriety and the appearance of impropriety. The revised code expands a little on when the appearance of impropriety occurs, but the definition is quite similar to what’s already in the existing code.

Here’s the kicker though: “Judges may reasonably differ in their interpretation” of when impropriety occurs, according to the revised code. Even though the restrictions in the code are cast in pretty general terms, a judge can decide that he or she didn’t do anything that looked improper.

Is it just me or does that not seem like a much of a change? Yes, they expanded on the definition of “appearance of impropriety” but if it’s up to each judge to determine whether it was committed, then there is still no uniform or close-to-uniform guide. The Associate Press had a story about this topic and noted two federal judges remain on the board of a corporate-funded group that provides freebies to judges. Another judge quit the board on the recommendation of the panel.

Based on this example, judges who serve on a boards that give them free seminars and trips can say there’s nothing wrong with that and remain on the board. That doesn’t seem like much of a revision of the Code of Conduct to me. If a judge is sitting on a board and getting freebies, I’d question how much of an influence that has on their decisions as a board member or as a judge.
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  1. Why in the world would someone need a person to correct a transcript when a realtime court reporter could provide them with a transcript (rough draft) immediately?

  2. If the end result is to simply record the spoke word, then perhaps some day digital recording may eventually be the status quo. However, it is a shallow view to believe the professional court reporter's function is to simply report the spoken word and nothing else. There are many aspects to being a professional court reporter, and many aspects involved in producing a professional and accurate transcript. A properly trained professional steno court reporter has achieved a skill set in a field where the average dropout rate in court reporting schools across the nation is 80% due to the difficulty of mastering the necessary skills. To name just a few "extras" that a court reporter with proper training brings into a courtroom or a deposition suite; an understanding of legal procedure, technology specific to the legal profession, and an understanding of what is being said by the attorneys and litigants (which makes a huge difference in the quality of the transcript). As to contracting, or anti-contracting the argument is simple. The court reporter as governed by our ethical standards is to be the independent, unbiased individual in a deposition or courtroom setting. When one has entered into a contract with any party, insurance carrier, etc., then that reporter is no longer unbiased. I have been a court reporter for over 30 years and I echo Mr. Richardson's remarks that I too am here to serve.

  3. A competitive bid process is ethical and appropriate especially when dealing with government agencies and large corporations, but an ethical line is crossed when court reporters in Pittsburgh start charging exorbitant fees on opposing counsel. This fee shifting isn't just financially biased, it undermines the entire justice system, giving advantages to those that can afford litigation the most. It makes no sense.

  4. "a ttention to detail is an asset for all lawyers." Well played, Indiana Lawyer. Well played.

  5. I have a appeals hearing for the renewal of my LPN licenses and I need an attorney, the ones I have spoke to so far want the money up front and I cant afford that. I was wondering if you could help me find one that takes payments or even a pro bono one. I live in Indiana just north of Indianapolis.

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