Ethics

Judges Now Have a New Code of Conduct to Follow

, The Legal Intelligencer

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Sam Stretton
Samuel C. Stretton

Under Rule 2.15, there is a reporting requirement if a lawyer or another judge engages in conduct that raises issues of honesty, trustworthiness or fitness. But there are also general reporting requirements if there are violations of the Rules of Professional Conduct. Rule 2.16 requires cooperation with disciplinary authorities and specifically prohibits retaliation against any judge or lawyer who has cooperated with disciplinary authorities.

Rule 3.1 deals with extracurricular activities of the judicial officer. A judge, under Rule 3.1, has to be careful not to participate in activities that could lead to disqualification. Under Subsection (d), a judge can't engage in conduct that would appear to be coercive. Particularly, a judge can't use court staff or stationery, except for law-related matters. The days of sending court staff to get a judicial robe cleaned, pick up a judge's children or type a child's term paper are over.

The judge is also restricted under Rule 3.2 from making presentations to public bodies unless in connection with law-related matters or administration of justice issues. Rule 3.3 concerning testimony of character witnesses is left open, although in the current code this is prohibited. But Pennsylvania Rule of Judicial Administration 1701(e) does prohibit a judge from providing character testimony.

Rule 3.4 very strongly prohibits a judge from accepting appointments to government committees and boards unless it concerns law or the legal system. A senior judge, under Rule 3.4(c), can accept such appointments, but then can't serve as a senior judge during the period of the appointment.

Rule 3.5 prohibits judges from using information acquired in their judicial duties for personal benefit.

Rule 3.6 is a new rule and very clearly prohibits a judge from being involved with discriminatory organizations. There is some limitation under Comment 4 on First Amendment issues. But it appears the days of joining an all-male or all-female club are over.

Rule 3.7 still allows a judge to write and teach on nonlegal subjects if this does not detract from the performance of the judicial office. A judge can engage in charitable activities, but there are prohibitions if the organization were to appear before the court. The judge is not allowed to solicit funds for any charitable activity, nor can the judge be a guest of honor or a speaker at a fundraising event for a charitable activity. The judge also can't give investment advice. The days of judges being presidents of the board of trustees of their churches or nonprofit organizations may be over as a result.

Rule 3.8 prohibits judges from serving as executors or in other fiduciary positions except for family members. If the judge is so serving when elected, the judge has one year to remove himself or herself. Under Rule 3.9, judges are forbidden to be arbitrators or mediators unless somehow it is part of their official duties. Rule 3.10 is very clear that judges cannot engage in the practice of law. Judges still have the right to represent themselves. A judge can provide some legal advice to his or her family members but cannot charge.

Rule 3.11 deals with a judge's financial activities. Judges are prohibited from serving as officers, directors, partners, advisers or any employee of any business except a closely held family business.

Under Rule 3.12, a judge can accept reasonable compensation for extrajudicial activities permitted by the code unless there would be the appearance of impropriety. Therefore, a judge can accept an honorarium for speaking or fees for teaching. But there are reporting requirements.

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