Judges Now Have a New Code of Conduct to Follow

, The Legal Intelligencer


Sam Stretton
Samuel C. Stretton

Judges now have a new code of conduct to follow.

Could you highlight the changes in the new Code of Judicial Conduct adopted by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court?

The new Code of Judicial Conduct that has been adopted does not go into effect until July 1. Some provisions involving appointments, discriminatory organizations, participation in fraternal or civic organizations, fiduciary obligations, and financial activities do not go into effect until July 1, 2015. Therefore, there is a transition time, as there has to be because there are substantial differences between the old and new codes.

This article will give a brief overview of some of the changes. It should be noted that this code does not cover magisterial district judges and traffic court judges. The code does cover all appellate, common pleas and municipal court Judges.

Under Rule 1.3, a judge cannot use the judicial office or letterhead to do personal business. But the judge can provide a letter of recommendation on judicial letterhead if the judge in the letter indicates the reference is personal. Under Rule 1.3(4), if the judge writes or publishes a book of articles, the judge cannot let the judicial office be exploited in the publication. A judge has to retain control over the advertising and promotion. The days of a judge sitting in a robe highlighting the book are gone.

Under Rule 2.3, there is a prohibition against bias, prejudice and harassment. This rule, under Subsection (b), has a specific prohibition against any bias or prejudice based upon race, gender, religion or sexual orientation. Similarly, the judge has to ensure that lawyers exhibit no such bias. Comment 4 specifically prohibits any form of sexual harassment, which includes not only sexual advances but physical conduct of a sexual nature. While judges should be very careful about how they interact with their staff, the days of off-color comments are long gone based on the new code and also the Supreme Court decisions removing judicial officers.

Under Rule 2.5, a judge is required to do administrative and judicial duties competently and cooperate with other judges and court officials. In other words, judges are not just the king of the hill. They must cooperate with their colleagues. Under Comment 4, a judge has an obligation to monitor and supervise cases to reduce or eliminate dilatory practices and delays and costs. A judge can no longer just sit back and let the docket take care of itself. That duty is placed squarely on the judge and it is the judge's responsibility to monitor cases and avoid delay.

Rule 2.6 is very interesting because, under Comment 2, it speaks about the role of the judge in settling disputes. Comment 2 sets forth specific factors for the judge to consider if the judge is participating in settlement negotiations. Comment 3 suggests that a judge who becomes deeply involved in settlement negotiations may consider recusal.

Under the responsibility to decide section under Rule 2.7, in Comment 3, the judge now has a duty to disclose information to the parties that the judge believes deal with disqualification. The duty to reveal is there even if the judge believes there is no proper basis for disqualification. Therefore, political contributions made by a party or a lawyer or prior representation or prior business relationships, even if long ago, have to be revealed by the judicial officer.

Under Rule 2.8, again there is a requirement for a judge to maintain order and decorum and be dignified and courteous. Of interest is Subsection (c), where a judge cannot commend or criticize the verdict of a jury to the jury. This is an important matter, because in the past judges sometimes would give their opinions in the back room to jurors after the verdict or would indirectly criticize jurors by noting someone's prior record if the judge was dissatisfied. A judge does not have a stake in the jury outcome and should not allow his or her emotions to be directed at the jury either in open court when the jury is discharged or when the judge goes back to talk to the jury.

Rule 2.9 prohibits ex parte communications. Under the rule, a judge has to notify all parties and give parties an opportunity to respond.

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