Canon 1.2: Avoiding Impropriety

A court professional shall avoid both impropriety and the appearance of impropriety.

A court professional shall avoid improper influences from business, family, position, party, or person.

A court professional shall avoid activities that would impugn the dignity of the court.

 

Comments

Avoiding impropriety and the appearance of it promotes the professional values of fairness, impartiality, a reliance on process, and making decisions based on the merits rather than favoritism. This canon also promotes the institution of courts as above reproach and therefore worthy of the public’s trust and confidence.

Impropriety and the Appearance of Impropriety.
Impropriety is a higher standard than simply “obeying the law”; the phrase “appearance of impropriety” is an even higher standard than that. The Model Code is silent on who defines impropriety or who determines the appearance of it.

Examples of impropriety: Having a personal relationship with a process server, or serving alcohol at a social event to already inebriated individuals.

Avoiding Improper Influence: Business
Examples: Quietly referring parties in cases to a specific local attorney; choosing one vendor over other more qualified vendors bidding on a court contract.

Avoiding Improper Influence: Family or Person
Example: Hiring a family or a friend over other more qualified candidates.

Avoid Improper Influence: Position
This could include resisting inappropriate pressure even by a judge, to perform an inappropriate act such as hiring a friend.

Impugning the Dignity of the Court
The code is vague on what constitutes the dignity of the court or impugning that dignity. Are there situations where the appearance of impropriety is unavoidable? For example could a court professional’s family member become deeply involved in a court case or arrested for a heinous crime? Could the professional showing up in a courtroom every day impugn the court’s dignity when others know the professional’s usual role in operations? Do family obligations and the need to show support overshadow one’s professional role?

Other Codes

Article IV (H) of the 1990 National Association for Court Management Code of Conduct states that, “Members shall avoid any activity that would reflect adversely on their position or court.”


Tenet Five of the California Administrative Office of the Courts Ethics Code Guidelines requires staff to refrain from improprieties, such as breaking the law, soliciting funds on the job, receiving gifts or favors related to court employment, accepting outside employment that conflicts with the court's duties, or recommending private legal service providers.

Tenet Six urges staff to, “Avoid any appearance of impropriety that might diminish the honor or integrity of the court.”

Canon 3 of the New Jersey Code of Conduct for Judicial Employees says, “A court employee shall observe high standards of conduct so that the integrity and independence of the courts may be preserved, and shall avoid impropriety or the appearance of impropriety. Guideline: In light of the injunction to "avoid impropriety or the appearance of impropriety" judiciary employees must not risk: (1) subjecting themselves to improper influences; (2) participating in activities or allowing themselves to be used in such manner as to impair the dignity and esteem in which the court should be held.”

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