The judge as author

The spring 2013 issue of the Judicial Conduct Reporter had an article on “The judge as author,” discussing the general rule that judges may author or co-author fiction or non-fiction books on legal or non-legal topics for legal or general publications and describing the limits to that permission for both content and promotion.

Recently, in U.S. Advisory Opinion 114 (2014), the advisory committee for federal judges issued comprehensive guidance for judges promoting books they have written.  The opinion addressed advertising, book signings, and media interviews.

The committee stated that a judge may not use “his or her judicial position, length of service, and court” in advertising materials and that the title “judge” may not precede a judge’s name in advertisements.  However, that information may be included “in a book jacket or in other similar straightforward author summaries, provided that the identification is without embellishment and appears in the context of other biographical information.”

According to the opinion, as long as the events are free and do not interfere with the performance of official duties, a judge may sign or discuss the judge’s books at book stores and other public venues where the books are available for sale.  The marketing materials for the judge’s appearances must comply with the advertising guidelines and should not suggest that attendees must purchase books or may enjoy special influence over the judge.  The committee stated:

During the events, the judge may read from and discuss the work in a dignified manner that focuses on the substance of the work and not merely on the author’s status as a federal judge.  Discussing the contents of the book, or how it came to be written, would generally be acceptable.  Urging attendees to buy the book would not.

If those guidelines are met, the committee advised, a judge may sell a book to an individual who happens to be an attorney or sign a book at an attorney’s request, “particularly if the book has not been marketed to the particular legal constituency the person represents” and the judge is not aware that the attorney has a relationship to any cases before the judge’s court.

A judge may also discuss a book during an event sponsored by a general membership bar association at a neutral location.  However, the opinion cautioned that “a judge’s signing or discussing books during an event before a narrow legal constituency at a non-neutral location . . . may suggest the judge favors the organization and the interests it represents.”  The committee noted that “concerns of favoritism are reduced if the events are open to a variety of attendees and held at neutral locations, and if the judge is available to address opposing or contrasting constituencies.”

The opinion warned judges to be dignified in media interviews about their books and to ensure “that the discussions and any mentions of the judicial position do not appear to exploit or to detract from the office.”  The committee explained:

Judges should approach live interviews with particular caution, especially if they anticipate being questioned about subjects whose public discussion might lead (even if unintentionally) to an appearance of impropriety.  The duty of a judge to promote public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary may be at risk when a judge voluntarily injects him or herself into the limelight of public controversy or discussions of sensitive matters, including confidential aspects of the judicial process.  Related commentary to the press may generate further disputes, lead to disqualification, or embroil the judge in personal and professional disputes.  Accordingly, judges should take care in their approach to press interactions, particularly live press interactions, although ultimately the judges themselves are in the best position to weigh the ethical considerations that apply to a particular situation and to choose the manner in which they respond.

On a somewhat related issue, a recent emergency staff opinion from the Connecticut Committee on Judicial Ethics advised that a judge may be a contestant on the TV reality show “The Amazing Race” but should tell the show that his or her title may not be used for promotional or commercial purposes.  The committee noted that the judge should retain the right to pre-approve any biographical information used in connection with the show.  As additional conditions, the committee warned that the judge must receive advance permission to take off the time, that taking the time off must not interfere with the performance of his or her judicial duties, and that the association with his or her teammate on the show must not create an appearance of impropriety, result in frequent disqualifications, or violate other provisions of the code.

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