Thursday, July 27, 2017
Supreme Court Committee Advises:
Judges Must Exercise Caution in Dealing With Vendors
By a MetNews Staff Writer
The California Supreme Court’s Committee on Judicial Ethics Opinions yesterday advised judges who meet with private vendors to play it safe by having staff members present.
The advisory opinion noted that judges, in such circumstances, need to keep in mind not only requirements of the Code of Judicial Ethics and administrative rules, but also public contracting laws. It said:
“The committee recommends that judges involved in such meetings enlist the assistance of court administrative staff to ensure compliance with those laws, guarantee impartiality, and avoid the appearance of improper use of judicial office to advance the pecuniary interests of the vendors. Where reliance on court staff is unavailable or unpractical, judges may meet directly with vendors so long as the judges have delegated authority to do so and they take precautions to avoid the appearance of favoritism, conflicts of interest, improper use of judicial office, and business relationships with likely parties.”
Family, Juvenile Departments
The opinion noted that judges in departments such as family law and juvenile law may need “to determine and investigate the availability of services for those appearing in their courts,” but cautioned that “the standards do not authorize interactions with vendors that would otherwise violate the canons, such as meetings to develop or promote services.”
The committee expressed the view that “direct meetings for the purposes of development or promotion of services would clearly violate the canons by favoring and advancing the pecuniary interests of the vendor.”
Again, it encouraged “[e[nlisting the assistance of court administrative staff.”
The opinion urged that judges who meet with vendors “for purposes of investigating services or products to be used by the court or parties pursuant to court orders” do so “only do so with the approval of their presiding judge or justice and with court administrative staff involvement to avoid conflicts or the appearance of partiality.”
Public Comment Received
A draft opinion was released last year, and public comments were sought. The due date for those comments was July 8 of last year.
The committee said that comments were received and considered.
Yesterday’s formal opinion is less insistent than the original version as to the advisability of staff involvement. The draft opinion said:
“The committee recommends that when approached by a vendor for a meeting, judges should enlist the assistance of court administrative personnel in order to help prevent lending the prestige of judicial office to vendors or conveying impressions of improper influence….Specifically, the committee recommends that judges should request that a court administrator, or other non-judicial personnel designated to handle procurement and contracting, step in and handle all initial communications with vendors, determine the purposes of proposed meetings in advance, attempt to schedule panel meetings with competing vendors, alert other judicial officers who also may have supervisory or administrative responsibilities related to the product or service at issue, and gather all necessary* information by meeting with vendors in place of judicial officers, if possible. In addition, the committee recommends that if meetings between judicial officers and vendors are ultimately necessary for diligent discharge of administrative responsibilities, judges may request court administrative personnel to attend all such meetings along with judicial officers.”
Final Draft’s Wording
The final opinion says:
“Relying on the expertise or appropriate administrative personnel to convene and participate in procurement meetings will… help to safeguard against conveying the impression that judges are promoting the vendors’ services or advancing their interests.
“For example, administrative staff could determine the purposes of the meeting in advance, alert other judicial officers who may also have supervisory or administrative responsibilities related to the product at issue, attempt to schedule panel meetings with competing vendors, gather all necessary information by meeting with the vendors in lieu of judicial officers where possible, or attend any meetings where practical or necessary. Court administrative staff, some of whom have specific duties and responsibilities under the public contracting laws and are experienced with the soliciting and bidding requirements, will also help ensure compliance with these laws and procedures.”
Copyright 2017, Metropolitan News Company