January 17th NACM Court Leader’s Advantage Podcast Episode
Every state in our nation has a Judicial Code of Conduct. Every judge in each state is obligated to follow that state’s Code. Since 1973, most Federal judges have been subject to The Code of Conduct for United States Judges. There is only group exempt from the duty to follow these codes. That group consists of the Justices of the United States Supreme Court.
To be fair over the years, accusations of scandal have been rare within the Court. Until recently one had to go back to Abe Fortas who in 1969 was accused of accepting a retainer from a private foundation. Lately however claims of bias have been on the rise. Justices are known to receive monetary advances for book deals. There have been accusations of inappropriate public comments; premature information on upcoming decisions disclosed; even draft opinions leaked.
As a result, public approval of the Court has sharply declined. A recent Gallup Poll showed 40% of the public approving of the Supreme Court while 59% disapproved.
This month we are asking should the United States Supreme Court adopt a Code of Conduct? Adopting such a Code might help to rehabilitate the Court’s image. On the other hand, a Code could damage if not destroy the court’s independence.
Questions to Explore
- What are implications of adopting a code; what are the implications of doing nothing?
- Are existing safeguards enough? Justices must submit financial disclosure forms and that they are prohibited from accepting gifts that could influence their judicial decision-making. Are these safeguards adequate?
- Voluntary recusal from a case is the chief remedy for judicial conflict of interest. Is that sufficient?
- Honorable Sherry Stephens, retired Judge with the Superior Court in Maricopa County, Arizona
- Honorable Edward J. Spillane, Judge of the Municipal Court in College Station, Texas
- Karl Thoennes III, Court Administrator with the 2nd Judicial Circuit Court in Sioux Falls, South Dakota
Click here to listen to the podcast.
Leave a question or comment about the episode at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Time Market Sheet
- ABA News Nov 21, 2022
- Huffington Post 7/9/2021
- New York Times 11/22/2022
- Jurist 12/9/2022
- There is an active Committee on Codes of Conduct that functions under the U.S. Judicial Conference [About the Judicial Conference | United States Courts (uscourts.gov)]. A key thing this committee does is respond to questions asked by judges and staff about issues, sometimes by informal responses but often with formal, written opinions which can be found here: Judiciary Policies | United States Courts (uscourts.gov)]. If a code were to be established for SCOTUS, and if were to be modeled on (or be the same!) as the existing federal judicial code, there already exists a substantial body of commentary/etc. to assist in any effort to interpret.
Honorable Sherry Stephens
The Honorable Sherry Stephens retired from the Maricopa County Superior Court bench where she served from 2001 through 2021. She served on the Criminal Department, the Civil Department, the Juvenile Department, Family Department, and as a special assignment judge. Prior to that she was with the Arizona Attorney General's Office, serving under five attorneys general. She worked as the Chief Counsel for the Organized Crime and Racketeering Section for twelve years. She also served as a Special Assistant United States Attorney on several cases. Arizona State University College of Law Outstanding Alumna 1998. State Bar of Arizona Distinguished Public Lawyer 1997.
Honorable Edward J. Spillane
The Honorable Edward J. Spillane is the Presiding Judge with the Municipal Court in College Station, Texas. He has served in this position since May 2002. Prior to this, he served as an Assistant District Attorney for Brazos County for eight years and as an associate for the law firm Fulbright & Jaworski for two years.
Judge Spillane received his undergraduate degree from Harvard University, and his law degree from the University of Chicago.
He is past President of the Texas Municipal Courts Association (TMCA); the 1st VP on the TMCA’s Board; was a member of the State Commission on Judicial Conduct representing all Texas Municipal Courts; is a member of the Texas Judicial Council; a member of the National Task Force on Fines, Fees, and Bail Practices; and a board member of the Misdemeanor Justice Project of the John Jay School of Criminal Justice in New York.
Judge Spillane has written articles in numerous publications, including The Washington Post, Texas Town and City, and the University of Chicago magazine. His articles have focused on the plight of indigent defendants and also the benefits of mindfulness in the courtroom.
He has taught on behalf of the Texas Municipal Courts Education Center and several national organizations.
Karl Thoennes III
Karl Thoennes III began his career in the courts in Alaska in 1988, ultimately working as a division supervisor at the state’s largest trial court in Anchorage. He was appointed as Court Administrator in Todd County, Minnesota in 1998, and then Stearns County, St. Cloud, two years later. In 2004 he was appointed as Administrator for the Second Judicial Circuit in South Dakota, the state’s largest circuit by population. For the past five years, together with Peter Kiefer, Karl has been the regular columnist on ethics in The Court Manager, a national publication for court leaders. Karl has served as speaker or panelist on a number of state, regional, and national programs including conferences for the National Association for Court Management, the Mid-Atlantic Association for Court Management, and various other colleges, universities, and professional associations in Minnesota and South Dakota.
Karl has guest lectured at St. Cloud State University on court structure and management, spoken on international public ethics in Minneapolis, and completed two graduate seminars in public policy in Sapporo, Japan, first as a student and then guest speaker. He holds a Masters degree in public administration from the University of Alaska. Contact: Second Judicial Circuit, 425 N. Dakota Avenue, Sioux Falls, SD 57104. Phone: 605-367-5920. Fax: 605-367-5979. E-mail: email@example.com.