Friday, November 2, 2007
State High Court Adopts Changes to Code of Judicial Ethics
By STEVEN M. ELLIS, Staff Writer
The California Supreme Court has amended the Code of Judicial Ethics to adopt an objective standard requiring that judges disclose information reasonably relevant to disqualification, and to permit judges to submit character reference letters on behalf of other judges who are under investigation by the Commission on Judicial Performance.
The court said yesterday that the changes, which it adopted at its administrative conference last week, will take effect Jan. 1.
Judges will now be held to an objective standard under amended canon 3E(2), requiring that a judge disclose on the record information that is reasonably relevant to the question of disqualification under Code of Civil Procedure Sec. 170.1. The current version of the canon provides only for the disclosure of information the judge believes parties or their lawyers might consider relevant to the question.
Judges will also be permitted under canon 2B(2) to submit character reference letters to the CJP on behalf of other judges under investigation, provided the letters are based on personal knowledge. Noting that the current language of the canon and its commentary leaves unclear whether such letters would impermissibly lend the prestige of judicial office to advance the interests of judges under investigation, the court adopted the measure after concluding that no basis existed to prohibit such letters and that the CJP might find them useful.
The advisory committee commentary following the canon was also revised to add a cross-reference to the canon requiring judges to take appropriate corrective action when another judge or an attorney engages in misconduct.
The court also announced changes to guidelines with respect to handling cases involving self-represented litigants; self-reporting by judges charged with or convicted of certain crimes; and misuse of the prestige of office by commissioners or referees.
Amended canon 3B(8), which pertains to judges who preside over cases with self-represented litigants, was amended to state that judges must manage the courtroom in a manner that provides all litigants the opportunity to have their matters fairly adjudicated. The amendment added a sentence to the advisory committee commentary explaining that a judge handling a case with a self-represented litigant has the discretion to take reasonable steps, consistent with the law and the canons, to enable the litigant to be heard.
Assigned judges and subordinate judicial officers will now be required under amended canon 3D(3) to self-report to the Chief Justice when charged with or convicted of a crime, and subordinate judicial officers will also be required to self-report to the presiding judges of the courts in which they sit. The canon currently requires these judicial officers to self-report to the CJP, but the CJP has no jurisdiction over assigned judges, and it has concurrent jurisdiction with local courts over subordinate judicial officers.
Canon 3D(3) was also amended to add misdemeanor citations charging specified crimes that are filed directly with a superior court to the list of charging documents that trigger the self-reporting requirement for all judicial officers. However, only citations charging the crimes enumerated in the canon must be reported.
Amended canon 6D will prohibit temporary judges, referees, and court-appointed arbitrators from using their title or lending the prestige of judicial office to advance the interests of themselves or others at any time. The prohibition, which is currently limited to the time period between the date of appointment and termination of the appointment, will become permanent under the amendment.
The court also announced the change of the name of the committee in the code’s preamble from “Supreme Court Advisory Committee on Judicial Ethics” to “Supreme Court Advisory Committee on the Code of Judicial Ethics,” as well as a number of other ministerial changes including grammatical changes.
Amended canon 6D(5)(a) will add the phrase “referee or court-appointed arbitrator” to a clause from which those individuals were inadvertently omitted when the disqualification and disclosure provisions were amended in July 2006.
Reorganized canon 3E(5), which contains grounds for disqualification of appellate justices, will set forth as a separate subsection the ground that a justice’s spouse or relative was a witness in the underlying case. Currently, the sentence containing that ground is appended to an unrelated ground for disqualification.
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