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Phone: 202-296-6889
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CRC News Releases

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Thursday, May 13, 2004
Contact: Doug Kendall, Community Rights Counsel, (202) 296 6889

Judicial "honor" no longer required under new code

Community Rights Counsel (CRC), a public interest law firm and judicial ethics watchdog, expressed shock today at the American Bar Association's proposal to dramatically weaken the ABA's Model Code of Judicial Conduct. According to Doug Kendall, CRC's Executive Director: "Judicial ethics rules are already toothless; the ABA seems ready to remove their gums."

The ABA's Model Code of Judicial Conduct serves as the blueprint for the binding ethical codes that apply to federal judges and state judges across the country. At noon today, the ABA Joint Commission to Evaluate the Model Code posted on its website a draft of important sections of its proposed new Model Code. This draft makes a significant number of changes to the existing ethical standards. Every one of these changes makes the Model Code weaker and harder to enforce.

Most notably, the proposed new Canon 1 eliminates the requirement that judges act at all times "in a manner that promotes public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary" and the Canon makes clear that judges should rarely (if ever) face discipline for violating the requirement that judges must avoid the "appearance of impropriety." New Canon 2 does not contain the existing prohibition against judicial membership in discriminatory clubs and has a new section entitled "Duty to Decide," which cautions judges against recusing themselves too frequently (as if that were the problem). Most symbolically and inexplicably, the new Canon 1 drops the words "and honorable" from existing Canon 1's recognition that "[a]n independent and honorable judiciary is indispensable to justice in our society."

In Doug Kendall's words: "In a time of unprecedented concern over judicial ethics, it is shocking and sad that the ABA would consider weakening ethical rules. It's like responding to students' failure to meet educational goals by dumbing down our standardized tests."

Community Rights Counsel investigations have revealed that federal judges have violated judicial ethics rules by presiding over cases despite having a financial interest in one of the parties and bxy failing to disclose their participation in junkets for judges. CRC's most recent investigation, Tainted Justice: How Private Judicial Trips Undermine Public Trust in the Judiciary, and ethics petitions filed by CRC simultaneously with the release of that investigation, demonstrate that judges can run afoul of ethical mandates, including the appearance of impropriety standard, by attending junkets funded by companies appearing before them, and by serving on the board of an organization that hosts junkets for federal judges. CRC's investigation and petitions are available at

For a more detailed summary of the proposed changes, click here. For the actual proposed revisions to Canon 1, click here; to Canon 2, click here. As The New York Times recently editorialized, "[t]he...proposals...would actually weaken the core provision that requires judges to avoid...the appearance of impropriety."

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