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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