Bar association drafts new ethics guidelines for judges

Rules prohibit accepting gifts, including travel

The Nation

October 08, 2004|By David G. Savage | David G. Savage,LOS ANGELES TIMES

WASHINGTON - Judges should not accept any gifts, including travel expenses, from "any person or entity whose interests are likely to come before the judge in the foreseeable future," the American Bar Association says in a draft of its new ethics rules for judges.

Moreover, judges should not accept travel, food or lodging if doing so would "cast reasonable doubt on [their] capacity to act with impartiality, integrity or independence," the proposed rules say.

The ABA's code of conduct serves as a model for judges, and it is followed by most state courts and by the federal judiciary. State and federal judges who violate the code can be reprimanded by higher courts.

Supreme Court justices are not governed by the various codes of conduct promulgated by the ABA or the federal judicial system. However, the justices say they do consult these rules as a guide.

The proposal to tighten the rules on gifts and travel grew out of news reports of judges accepting free trips to resorts for seminars sponsored by business groups and by Justice Antonin Scalia's duck-hunting trip with Vice President Dick Cheney.

In both instances, critics said, the trips cast doubt on whether the judges would be perceived as impartial.

In early January, Scalia, his son and his son-in-law flew with Cheney on Air Force Two to southern Louisiana to go duck hunting at a private camp. The justice said later that "none of us saved a cent" by flying aboard Cheney's plane because Scalia and his party had purchased round-trip tickets, but used only the New Orleans-Washington portion.

Scalia also said the hunting trip had been planned well in advance, but it took place just three weeks after the Supreme Court voted to take up Cheney's appeal in a case involving access to the records of a task force, headed by the vice president, on the administration's energy policy. When asked to step aside, Scalia refused, asserting that the case involved the office of the vice president, not Cheney personally.

In working on the proposed rules, the ABA's lawyers said they wanted to warn judges to think in advance about possible conflicts of interest, rather than face questions later about the possible need to step aside from deciding a case. Scalia and other members of the Supreme Court say they are especially reluctant to step aside in pending cases because the loss of one justice could result in a 4-4 tie.

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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