Canon 2.7: Discretion

A court professional shall be respectful of litigants, the public, applicants and employees’ personal lives; disregard information that legally cannot or should not otherwise be considered; use good judgment in weighing the credibility of

Internet data; and be cautious about verifying identities.

A court professional shall treat personal or sensitive information with the same discretion that one would wish others to have if one were involved in a similar case.

Comments

Discretion is a fundamental value of professionalism.

Use of the Internet
Use of the Internet is still something of an emerging issue and using it to research applicants, employees, and vendors generates significant debate. This canon takes into account the following considerations.

  1. The credibility of information published on the internet can vary from highly reliable to complete nonsense, so managers must be appropriately skeptical of search engine results.
  2. Although the boundary between the public and private activities of court employees can be a complex area, there can be no expectation of privacy for information published on the Web; therefore, assertions about the privacy of such information are misplaced, even though such information can be intensely personal.
  3. Just like jurors are asked to disregard inadmissible revelations at trial, court managers may sometimes be compelled by law and/or public policy to disregard what they discover through Internet searches, as difficult as that may be depending on the nature of the revelation.

Internet inquiries must be conducted very cautiously for all the reasons described, the Internet is now such a comprehensive information resource that such inquiries on prospective applicants or service providers can be entirely appropriate and may even be necessary and welljustified in some circumstances.

Disclosing Sensitive Information
While prohibitions against the release of confidential or legally sealed data is clearcut, an ethical prohibition on the release or casual discussion of highly personal information found in files that is otherwise public is less clear. Court employees ought to treat personal, private, or sensitive information with the same care and discretion that they would wish others to have for their own personal business – sort of a golden rule of discretion.

Examples
A reasonable court employee would not want his or her messy divorce casually discussed at a party, so court professionals should not discuss a citizen’s divorce at a party either.

A reasonable court employee would find it hurtful to have the gory details of his sister’s assault discussed at the local bar, so employees ought to extend that same discretion to members of the public and refrain from such discussions in social settings, whether or not those same gory details were published on the front page of the local newspaper.

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