A sampling of recent judicial ethics advisory opinions

  • A judge may not use the court’s electronic case management system to independently investigate adjudicative facts in a case unless the investigation is authorized by law or the information is the proper subject of judicial notice.  California Formal Opinion 2021-16.
  • A judge may disclose the judge’s own preferred gender pronouns in the judge’s email signature block and orally during a virtual proceeding in which the judge presides.  New York Opinion 2021-114(A).
  • A judicial officer who participates in judiciary programs that partner with schools to bring civics-based education to students is not disqualified from cases against school districts regarding COVID-19-related mask and vaccine mandates, but judicial officers must consider whether additional facts require disqualification, for example, if the judge has gained personal knowledge about the reasons for a school district’s mask or vaccine policies; if a case against a school district names as a defendant someone a judicial officer worked closely with, extensively communicated with, or publicly associated with; or if the judicial officer made a statement during a program that a person would reasonably believe commits the judicial officer to a particular outcome in a case challenging mandates.  California Expedited Opinion 2021-44.
  • A judge who was the prosecutor in a case may comment on an application for clemency and on the applicant’s character if requested to do so by the body making the clemency decision but should respond solely in their capacity as the former prosecutor and should not identify themself as a judge or use judicial letterhead.  Colorado Opinion 2021-1.
  • A judge may be part of the judicial system workgroup of the National Substance Use Disorder Strategic Advisory Panel when their role would be “to assist in identifying supportive policies within the judicial system, addressing both criminal and civil legal problems for individuals with substance use disorders and their families.”  Florida Opinion 2021-15.
  • A family court judge may not accept an appointment to the Judicial Leadership Council of the National Court Appointed Special Advocate/Guardian Ad Litem Association for Children or permit the organization to “promote” the judge on social media and its website.  New York Opinion 2021-115.
  • A judicial officer may not serve as the chair of a sorority’s regional conference sponsorship committee because her name would be on conference letterhead as a member of the leadership task force and her role would include identifying corporate sponsors and partners, participating in event marketing, overseeing the solicitation of potential regional donors, and assisting committee members with grants and closing key sponsorship packages.  South Carolina Opinion 14-2021.
  • A judge may be on a panel of community leaders for an entry level training program for police recruits but should be open to appropriate requests from other groups or organizations with interests that may not be aligned with those of a police training academy.  The judge may only speak about the law and may not offer “tips” on demeanor, decorum, or other aspects of witness credibility; criticize the law or otherwise comment on topics from the perspective of a police officer; discuss community policing principles that go beyond principles of law; or comment on topics related to police reform.  The judge should disclose the ethical restrictions to attendees so that, if the judge declines to comment or answer a question or remains silent while others speak, the attendees will understand.  Maryland Opinion Request 2021-19.
  • A judge may attend an online “launch party” hosted by an attorney and law firm that do not appear before the judge.  New York Opinion 2021-114(B).
  • A judge may not write comments about how an expert witness’s book would contribute to the legal profession from a judge’s perspective that are intended to be included in the book and that may be used in advertisements.  Florida Opinion 2021-17.
  • A judge may write a book review for a legal textbook and retain the reviewed book in their personal library.  New York Opinion 2021-117.
  • A village justice may send mailers to village residents at the judge’s own expense explaining the functions and jurisdiction of the justice court, including the monetary limits and residency requirements for small claims and civil cases and other matters the village court handles, such as orders of protection and landlord/tenant disputes.  New York Opinion 2021-134.
  • In response to a recent incident in which an individual deliberately released a sitting judge’s residential address without authorization in response to the judge’s performance of their official duties and encouraged others to make use of the address, if a court proceeding is not reasonably foreseeable, a judicial association may release a generic statement with little identifying detail publicly condemning the “doxing,” urging the public not to engage in such conduct, and seeking legislative action.  New York Opinion 2021-147.
  • • Subject to several limitations, a specialized docket court judge may permit a documentary filmmaker to record court proceedings and interview the judge and court personnel as part of a grant-funded documentary film about community support of persons with serious mental illness. Ohio Opinion 2021-8.
  • A judge or judicial candidate cannot serve on a host committee for a campaign fundraiser for another judge or judicial candidate.  Tennessee Opinion 2021-3.
  • Candidates for judicial election or retention may respond to questionnaires from media sources, public interest groups, or advocacy groups about their views on controversial moral, legal, or political issues as long as they do not make statements that commit or appear to commit the candidate with respect to cases, controversies, or issues within cases that are likely to come before the court.  Illinois Opinion 2021-3.

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