Canon 2.8: Proper Use of Public Resources

A court professional shall use the resources, property and funds under one’s official control judiciously and solely in accordance with prescribed procedures.

Comments

Although this canon calls out for an enhanced definition of “prescribed procedures,” it may be better to concentrate on how professionals use court resources judiciously. Asking a professional if they are using resources judiciously allows the individual to manage his or her own behavior.

The evolution of the electronic age and the increased demand for immediate response has expanded the focus of this canon. Twenty years ago ethics codes warned against making off with office supplies or excessively using the office telephone to chat with friends. With the advent of desktop computers and personal digital assistants, this canon now focuses on blending work and personal time. More discussion is needed to define new issues.

  • When it is appropriate to email friends using one’s personal account which is on one’s desktop computer simultaneously with the office communications software?
  • Is it appropriate to use one’s private email account to communicate other professionals on business issue? What if one does this specifically so one can “speak one’s mind” uttering ideas not fit for a public forum? Should the private emails be considered public and how would anyone ever find out short of an investigator committing an illegal act to obtain them.

Most courts declare that email as inherently in the public domain, yet this admonishment seems to be routinely ignored by staff, often to the court professional’s peril. Could this situation sometime in the future where ethics bow to custom and emails even from an office system will be deemed private? Certainly a weak argument can be made that phone calls remain private more by virtue of the mode of transmission than anything else. (One can scarcely think of a court recording all telephone calls as a matter of policy). Why then should emails be public just because they are easier to retrieve?

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