Tuesday, July 11, 2006
Committee Invites Comments on Judicial Ethics Changes
By a MetNews Staff Writer
A Supreme Court advisory committee yesterday invited public comment on proposed changes to the Code of Judicial Ethics, including one that would treat registered domestic partners as family members for purposes of the disqualification rules.
The proposal would add the words “or registered domestic partner” throughout the code wherever it refers to a judge’s spouse, and to amend the definition of “member of judge’s family” and “member of judges family residing in the judge’s household” to include such partners.
The committee said in the invitation to comment that the change is needed because the phrase “registered domestic partner” is recognized by the Domestic Partner Rights and Responsibilities Act of 2003, and because the underlying policy reasons for certain provisions of the code apply equally to registered domestic partners as they do to spouses and members of a judge’s family.
“If a judge is disqualified because his or her spouse is a party or has a financial interest in a proceeding, there is no reason why the judge should not be disqualified if his or her registered domestic partner is similarly situated,” the committee said.
Another proposal would change what information a judge needs to disclose relating to his possible disqualification from a case. The code currently requires a judge to disclose information that “the judge believes” the parties or their attorneys might consider relevant to the judge’s disqualification.
The amendment deletes the words “the judge believes,” and would require judges to disclose information “that the parties or their lawyers might reasonably consider relevant” to the judge’s disqualification under Code of Civil Procedure Sec. 170.1.
The purpose of the proposed change is to “focus on the perceptions of the parties and their lawyers rather than what the judge believes,” the committee said.
“By focusing on the subjective belief of the judge, who already has decided the information does not require disqualification, the current language may not advance the reflective consideration the disclosure requirement is intended to promote,” the committee explained.“[C]hanging the language . . . to focus on the parties and their lawyers would further the purpose of the provision.”
The committee also recommended adding language tying the disclosure to Code of Civil Procedure Sec. 170.6 otherwise “the parties might argue that certain extraneous information about a judge should be disclosed because the information could lead a party to file a peremptory challenge against the judge.”
Another proposal would amend provisions relating to the disqualification of appellate justices who have an agreement regarding prospective employment as a private alternative dispute resolution provider. The amendment would also disqualify a judge who has a current arrangement or is in negotiations with an ADR provider and either directs the parties to participate in an ADR process in which the provider is the one with which the judge has the arrangement or has been negotiating, or is among the possible providers to be chosen.
It would track recent changes to legislation regarding identical disqualifications of trial judges, so that the rules for appellate and trial judges would remain the same.
Comments should state whether one agrees with, does not agree with, or agrees with each proposed change if modified, and include any comments regarding the proposals, the committee said, adding that comments will become part of the public record.
If approved by the court, the changes will take effect Jan. 1, the committee said, adding that comments must be received by 5:00 on Sept. 1. It said comments may be mailed to Romunda Price, Judicial Council, 455 Golden Gate Ave., San Francisco, CA 94102. Comments may also be e-mailed to firstname.lastname@example.org, faxed to (415) 865-7664, or submitted via internet at www.courtinfo.ca.gov/invitationstocomment, the committee said.
Copyright 2006, Metropolitan News Company