Ask the Model Code: to tattle or not to tattle

Dear Model Code:

When is it appropriate for a judge to report a fellow judge’s behavior?

Sincerely,

Judge Not-A-Tattletale

 

Dear Judge Not-A-Tattletale:

Great question. Where is the line between being a good judge and being a bad co-worker?

Everyone knows that the Model Code says judges shall perform their duties “impartially, competently, and diligently.” But what is your duty when you find out other judges aren’t doing their duty?

Three rules, in particular, relate to fellow judges’ unethical behavior.

Canon 2, Rule 2.12 B states: “A judge with supervisory authority for the performance of other judges shall take reasonable measures to ensure that those judges properly discharge their judicial responsibilities.”

Canon 2, Rule 2.15 A states: “A judge having knowledge that another judge has committed a violation of this Code that raises a substantial question regarding the judge’s honesty, trustworthiness, or fitness as a judge in other respects shall inform the appropriate authority.”

Rule 2.15 C specifies that if a judge has information “indicating a substantial likelihood” that another judge has behaved unethically, then the judge “shall take appropriate action.”

Our judge friends have told us that direct knowledge, not just hearsay, may be required for the obligation to report. For example, if you were to witness a judge egregiously berating a lawyer, witness, juror or staff, that public conduct demeans the judicial office and ought to be reported.

No one wants to report a fellow judge, but if it is in the best interest of the judiciary as a whole, then it needs to be done.

Observantly yours,

The Model Code of Judicial Conduct

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