The Code of Judicial Ethics & Judicial Council Watcher

Posted on July 3, 2011

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Recently brought to our attention were new amendments to the code of judicial ethics. The one that caught our attention is this:

Promoting Public Confidence

A judge shall respect and comply with the law and shall act at all times in a manner that promotes public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary. A judge shall not make statements that commit the judge with respect to cases, controversies or issues that are likely to come before the courts or that are inconsistent with the impartial performance of the adjudicative duties of judicial office.

Sounds innocuous enough but consider the following:

Those of us on the media side of the fence have an issue with gaining access to the judiciary in general. As such, rocking the judicial boat and reporting the facts can get us cut off from access. Reporting anything that does not promote public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary can get us uninvited to press briefings and releases and cause those in some circles to ignore our requests for more information. If all of this was not detrimental enough to a free press, we can even have chief justices visit our editors and threaten them with a permanent loss of access as an organization if journalists and reporters are not punished or re-assigned internally.

For their part, judges are not permitted to make statements unless they are through rose colored glasses. Think about the considerable amount of material on this site that many others in this state would construe as a criminal act. Has anyone ever seen a judge make any commentary whatsoever about the embezzlement of public funds? Has anyone ever seen a judge make any commentary about the legality of hiring unlicensed contractors and grossly overpaying them in the same article or sentence? The answer to these questions is a big, fat no.

The fact of the matter is that if one of AOC’s vendors gave someone in the judiciary a million dollar kickback and there were bench officers that witnessed this, they are prohibited from making any comment about it because it does not promote public confidence in the integrity of the judiciary.

By making any comment pertaining to the legality of the kickback or even that it was a kickback versus keeping silent and saying nothing at all, they risk making a statement about controversies or issues likely to come before the court. Saying nothing at all enables the behavior and conceals that behavior from the public eye, thereby promoting public confidence in the integrity of the judiciary.

In short, it is the perfect storm to enable criminal activity to go on in the branch unchecked and void of media scrutiny because even attorneys are bound by similar rules. 

Judicial Council Watcher was launched precisely for all of the above reasons. We’re not judges. We’re not bound by these rules. We’re not beholden to an editor that risks losing access or is locked out of press briefings because of what we report to you – our readers.

You will note that the many judges that visit this site NEVER COMMENT on threads that call into question the legalities of much of what everyone else knows is unlawful but we can assure you that they read those threads by the thousands with a considerable degree of jaw-drop.

Their hands are tied and their voices are silenced by this rule that enables criminal or improper activity. Reading this rule in black and white above, is it all beginning to come together?

This is one of the reasons why Judicial Council Watcher recommends spokespersons for the various organizations, such as courts, alliances and associations that are neither judges, nor attorneys and empower them with a license to say it like it is. They can easily enough disclaim that judicial or attorney ethics preclude attorneys or judges or members of the organization from making any comments regarding these matters or making any statements themselves, thereby avoid running afoul of these rules that enable lawlessness.

In the meantime, Judicial Council Watcher exists to be a voice that will perpetually point to the elephant in the room that nobody can talk about. There is no prohibition on commenting on non-controversial threads that don’t run afoul of these enabling rules and you see our bench officers commenting in those threads. We also know from retired bench officers that contact us that we’ve precisely hit this nail on the head and have driven it home.

We also believe that this thread is written in such a way that does not preclude current bench officers from commenting on it, since comments about these rules is what the Supreme Court seeks. Since we know they read, please provide the Supreme Court your public comments in this thread and confirm or deny the accuracy of our statements for public consumption so that everyone else gets a good idea of the gravity of the challenge.

Edited to add – Without commenting, one or a whole group of people can click the little star rating system below and confirm the accuracy of these statements. We would love to see 500 people rate this post without comment but know we will be fortunate enough to have ten people rate the post, even though over two thousand people will read it this week

More on the request for comments: http://www.courts.ca.gov/documents/SP11-07.pdf

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