Judges Now Have a New Code of Conduct to Follow

, The Legal Intelligencer


Sam Stretton
Samuel C. Stretton

Rule 3.13 is a major change that prohibits gifts, loans or other things of value. The judge can't accept any gifts or loans if it would appear to undermine the judge's independence. But, under Subsection (b), a judge can still accept small gifts, such as plaques or trophies. These small gifts don't have to be reported. But receiving gifts or loans from lawyers appearing before the judge requires disqualification under Rule 3.3(b)(2). A judge can accept ordinary social hospitality. That is, a judge can still go to the homes of friends and have dinner without paying for it. A judge can still keep lottery proceeds. The judge can still get books or magazines that are provided on a complimentary basis.

Also, under Subsection (c) of Rule 3.13, a judge can accept but must report gifts that allow a judge to attend bar-related functions or educational, charitable civic functions if the invitation is offered to nonjudges who are also involved. In other words, if the judicial officer is the only person being paid as a speaker and the other lawyers are not being paid, then the judge can't do it. The judge has a duty under Subsection (d) to report gifts and loans to the judge or other family members if the source is a party or other person, including a lawyer who has come before the judge.

Under Rule 3.14, a judge can get reimbursed for certain expenses for travel and more if they are associated with the judge's participation and extrajudicial activities permitted by the code. In other words, when invited to a seminar, the judge can be reimbursed. If the judge is invited to go golfing with lawyers or go to the Pennsylvania Society meetings in New York, the judge can't get reimbursed.

Under Rule 3.15, there are stringent reporting requirements. Any compensation received under Rule 3.12 has to be reported. Gifts and other things need to be reported unless the value and the aggregate for the year do not exceed $250 from the same source. Reimbursement of expenses that are allowed under Rule 3.14 doesn't have to be reported unless it exceeds $650 from the same source.

Under Rule 3.15(b), there are specific reporting requirements as to the date, place and nature of the activity and description of the gift. These are to be filed with the Pennsylvania Supreme Court as a statement of financial interest.

Canon 4 replaces the old Canon 7 involving political activity when one is a candidate. Rule 4.1 has some similarities to Canon 7, but specifically prohibits using court staff or court resources for a judicial campaign. In other words, the days of taking calls using the judicial telephone or using the judicial fax machine for sending out campaign material are over. Also, under Rule 4.1(8), a judge cannot knowingly or recklessly disregard the truth by making false or misleading campaign statements. Nor is a judge allowed to make statements that would be expected to affect the outcome or fairness of a matter pending in any court. The old prohibition against pledges or promises under Subsection 11 is maintained. Under Comment 5 to Rule 4.1, members of a judge's family can be politically active, but the judge has to ensure that the judge does not become personally associated with the family members' political activities.

Under Rule 4.2, a judge is allowed to set up a campaign committee not earlier than immediately after the general election in the year prior to the calendar year in which the person becomes a candidate. This moves the time period back. It used to be 30 days before the filing deadline for candidates. A judge, beginning after the general election in the year before, can then speak out on his or her candidacy and on the race itself and purchase dinner tickets, accept endorsements and more. A judge under Subsection (8) can use court facilities for photos and videos, but the facilities have to be available also on an equal basis to other judicial candidates.

Under Subsection (c) to Rule 4.2, a judge cannot personally solicit or accept campaign contributions. Contributions must go through the campaign committee. Rule 4.3 allows candidates for appointment to a judicial office to communicate with the appointing authority and seek endorsements for the appointment.

Rule 4.4 involves campaign committees. There can be no solicitation or contributions earlier than immediately after the general election in the year prior to the judicial election. That is a major change because it gives a candidate about three or four more months of fundraising, since before one had to wait the 30 days before filing nominating petitions. Judicial campaign activities and fundraising activities have to end the last calendar day of the election year. Rule 4.4(b)(3) requires reporting the contributions by the committee.

Rule 4.5 discusses activities of a judge who becomes a candidate for a nonjudicial office. That requires a judge to resign from his or her judicial office. But if a judge becomes a candidate for a nonjudicial appointed office, he or she is not required to resign, with certain exceptions. But a judge may continue to hold a judicial office while serving or being a candidate to serve as a delegate to a state constitutional convention.

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