Metropolitan News-Enterprise


Monday, June 11, 2018




Ethics Committee Says Judges May Give Talks Before Specialty Bar Associations

But Counsels Them to Make Clear Non-Alliance With Such Groups’ Causes


By a MetNews Staff Writer


The California Supreme Court Committee on Judicial Ethics Opinions on Friday cautioned members of the bench to take care to avoid the appearance of impropriety when speaking before specialty bar associations—such as those comprised of deputy district attorneys or deputy public defenders, or members of the plaintiffs’ bar or defense bar.

“It is the committee’s opinion that a judge may give an educational presentation to  a specialty bar association, but must avoid bias or the appearance of bias towards the  association’s members who may represent a particular class of clients, engage in a  particular practice area, or reflect a particular group of people,” the opinion advises, adding:

“A  judge must also avoid creating an appearance that the specialty bar association is in a  special position to influence the judge towards its members or causes.”

No ‘Coaching’ Allowed

It warns that a judge must not be perceived as “coaching” one side or the other, and suggests:

“A presentation is sufficiently neutral if the judge can give the same presentation to specialty  bar associations with members that represent opposing or competing interests or parties.”

The opinion declares that “[t]o avoid an appearance of bias, a judge must be equally available to groups that represent opposing viewpoints.”

Although trial court judges are generally reluctant to discuss cases on appeal, the opinion notes that they may do so, so long as the case was not one before that judge and “the comments or discussions do not interfere with a fair hearing of the case, and the discussions are limited to legal education programs and materials.”

Promotional Materials

The judge has an affirmative obligation to review promotional materials in advance of release, the opinion provides, to make certain they do not convey the impression that the judge is speaking other than in a neutral role. If they do, the opinion says, the judge must take “corrective action.”

Such an action, it says, include requiring that the materials be reprinted or making a disclaimer at the start of the talk.

The committee is comprised of 12 jurists, including one from Los Angeles—Superior Court Judge Samantha P. Jessner—appointed by the Supreme Court.


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