Canon 4.1: Refraining from Inappropriate Political Activity

A court professional retains one’s right to vote and is encouraged to exercise it as a part of citizenship.

Engaging in any political activity is done strictly as a private citizen and only in accordance with state law or court rules.

A court professional shall participate only during non–court hours, using only non–court resources.

A court professional shall not use one’s position or title within the court system to influence others.

Unless a court professional is elected to one’s court position, one shall campaign during non–work hours or take an unpaid leave of absence upon declaring one’s intent to run for office.

If elected, a court professional shall resign one’s post with the court unless one is holding a political office that clearly does not hold a conflict of interest, nor does it interfere with one’s ability to perform one’s court duties.

Comments

The Right to Vote

Politics in the court realm is particularly sensitive. Although the judicial branch should be above partisanship, it is frequently subject to the influences of community criticism, funding shortfalls, and political favoritism. It is important with all the prohibitions against political activities that court staff observe and celebrate our fundamental right, the right to vote.

Political Activity Done as a Private Citizen
The right to vote aside, it is important to maintain the clear distinction between the role of citizen participation and the role of court professional. This distinction supports a fundamental value of the court professional being fair and impartial.

Do Not Use Title to Influence Others
One should never use one’s title (e.g., judge, court administrator or county clerk) to encourage or coerce staff to vote or contribute money to a campaign for a candidate or a ballot measure. In addition one should never award favors or sanctions to staff dependant upon whether a staff member did or did not vote or contribute to a campaign.
This is a logical extension of Canon 1.6 on Avoiding Privilege particularly focusing on politics.

Campaign During Non–Work Hours
The code assumes that even if one is standing for re–election, campaigning should be during off hours or else take leave. Again this clearly distinguishes between the private and public roles.

Resigning One’s Previous Position
Situations have arisen where court staff have been elected to offices in different branches and at different levels of government. Staff must be vigilant if a conflict of interest arises. If an elected position has direct oversight on aspects of court operations (e.g., county Board of Supervisors or state legislature) the court professional should
resign one of the positions. Criteria the court professional who is also a newly elected officer should ask includes, does the new position have influence, director or indirect, over the following:

  • Funding to the court.
  • Court resources.
  • Rule making for the court.
  • Court operations.
  • Court staffing.

Ballots and Measures
As the court has a right and responsibility to respond to initiatives that affect the administration of justice, it is unclear a court professional’s role is regarding ballot initiatives.

For example several years ago ballot initiative passed in several states that required treatment and prohibited incarceration for first time drug defendants. Can a court professional lobby other court staff regarding a ballot initiative? Can a court professional captain a ballot initiative drive?

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