Remote proceedings and judicial demeanor

Noting that March is National Ethics Awareness Month, the National Center for State Courts published on its “trending topics” page a short article entitled “’Hot mics’ and judicial ethics” about “three judicial discipline cases from the pandemic era [that] demonstrate how judges should always assume they can be overheard as courts continue using remote or hybrid hearings to make some proceedings more accessible and convenient.”

In addition, the New York State Commission on Judicial Conduct included in its annual report for 2022 a discussion of courtroom decorum for remote proceedings.  It explained:

The Covid pandemic put unusual and unexpected strains on judges, court personnel, litigants and attorneys, but the obligation to abide by the Rules Governing Judicial Conduct was not suspended, even as the court system adapted its operations by expanding its communications capabilities to conduct certain proceedings and official business electronically.

As the devastating impact of the pandemic’s early months receded, and the pace of court calendars picked up again, the Commission began receiving complaints about judges and lawyers who were dressed inappropriately casual for court proceedings, particularly those occurring virtually (i.e. by electronic video).  Complaints also came in alleging that some judges overreacted when confronted by what they regarded as an attorney’s inappropriate attire.  In one such situation, a judge took it out on the client by dismissing a lawsuit – rather than, say, calling a recess – because the plaintiff’s attorney appeared without a necktie for a proceeding conducted via video.

The Commission reminded “judges and lawyers to respect the solemnity of court proceedings in their attire as well as their manner” and also reminded judges to try “in maintaining the decorum of the actual or virtual court, . . . to match their response to the nature of the provocation and not punish a client for disrespect demonstrated by the lawyer.”

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