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Tuesday, August 2, 2011

AFJ hosts panel discussion in San Francisco on Judicial Ethics and the Supreme Court

Today, Alliance for Justice, along with the Bay Area Lawyer Chapter of the American Constitution Society and California Common Cause, held a panel discussion on Judicial Ethics and the Supreme Court.  This event, hosted in the San Francisco offices of the law firm Bingham McCutchen, featured Nan Aron, President of Alliance for Justice, Derek Cressman of California Common Cause, and Richard Zitrin, Lecturer in Law at UC Hastings and Former Director of the Center for Applied Legal Ethics, University of San Francisco School of Law.

Nan Aron, President of Alliance for Justice, introduces panelists
Richard Zitrin (L) and Derek Cressman
The discussion focused on recent questions about bias and impartiality of Supreme Court justices, including reported incidents of justices failing to make true and accurate disclosures of gifts and/or spousal income, as well as reports of their attendance at partisan events.  These indiscretions, and others, raise issue as to the impartiality of the justices who, unlike judges sitting on the lower federal courts, are not bound by the federal Code of Conduct for United States Judges.  According to the Supreme Court, this Code of Conduct is deemed merely advisory by the justices on the highest court in the country.

Derek Cressman of California Common Cause
discusses his organization's efforts to reveal
justices' violations of ethical conduct.
The panelists explained the very real implications of having a Supreme Court whose members are not only without a code of ethics, but have been untruthful in the disclosure reports that they are required to provide.  As a means of addressing this issue, the panelists and audience members engaged in a lively Q&A session in which they discussed the possibilities of legislative reform and the possibility of presenting nominees to the Supreme Court with a pledge to abide by the Code of Conduct upon confirmation.

Audience members included lawyers and activists,
and were eligible to receive 1.0 CLE credits for their attendance.
Panelists and audience members agreed that members of the federal judiciary, including Supreme Court justices, should be allowed and encouraged to participate in events such as educational seminars and meetings sponsored by issue based organizations, but that the appearance of the Supreme Court’s independence and impartiality is undermined when its Justices are held to a lower ethical standard.

For more information on the issue of judicial ethics, and to find out about Alliance for Justice’s efforts for reform, please visit AFJ’s website at http://www.afj.org/connect-with-the-issues/supreme-court-ethics-reform/.

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