February 2014 Judicial Code of Conduct Update
Pennsylvania adopts new Judicial Code of Conduct that will take effect July 1, 2014.
These new rules closely mimic the rules of the American Bar Association (ABA) which were implemented about seven years ago. They are designed to solve problems not envisioned years ago (social media, mental health issues, new protected classes, etc.) as well as conquer problems that have always existed, such as preferential treatment, campaign contributions and judges sitting on the boards of commercial bodies. For example, prior to the adoption of the new rules, judges in Pennsylvania were allowed to sit on corporate boards. Many believe this created the appearance of impropriety as said judges may not be impartial when those businesses or similar ones appear in court.
The old code was last updated in 1973 so there was a lengthy process of updating the rules that lasted approximately two and a half years and some believe it was commenced as a result of a wave of corruption and scandals that has rocked the Judiciary in recent years. These include the “Kids for Cash” scheme in Luzerne County, Common Pleas judges going to federal prison, the indictment of some Philadelphia Traffic Court judges and Supreme Court Justice Joan Orie Melvin’s conviction for corruption. Currently, state Supreme Court Justice Seamus McCaffery is under federal investigation after his wife, his chief administrative judicial assistant, collected more than $800,000 in a referral fee.
The new code follows many similar codes around the country and was developed by a large committee of people with varying degrees of legal experience and backgrounds.
The new rule on campaign contributions is even more interesting. It is triggered if the judge “learns that a party, a party’s lawyer, or the law firm of a party’s lawyer has made a direct or indirect contribution(s) to the judge’s campaign in an amount that would raise a reasonable concern about the fairness or impartiality of the judge’s consideration of a case involving the party, the party’s lawyer, or the law firm of the party’s lawyer”. We expect much discussion of this particular section in the future as there is no set dollar amount named in the rule.
Through the years there has been a great deal of favoritism for positions under the judges with many family members being hired by judges. In some cases, multiple family members have been hired. This will end with implementation of the new rules. To read the full set of rules, please click here.