February 27, 2008
A recent judicial ethics opinion from Massachusetts considers whether and to what extent a trial judge who presided over a high-profile criminal trial may cooperate with the author of a book about the case. The conclusion:
"the Code of Judicial Conduct prohibits your discussion of the adjudicative process on matters not contained in the public record. Consequently, the Code does not allow you to discuss your 'impressions' from your perspective as the trial judge; your thoughts about the case 'in the context of those times'; how you 'approached' the case; any 'color or context' you might be able to provide; and anything else that 'stood out' for you about the case if it would reveal information about the adjudicative process that is outside the public record. The Code would allow you, however, to discuss administrative matters, such as any 'extra concerns' you may have had in managing a high profile matter, including security concerns, media concerns, steps you took to address these concerns, and, in the words of Section 3 B (9) (a), 'the procedures of the court, general legal principles, or what may be learned from the public record in a case.' Topics such as special concerns for the families involved lie on or near the border of administrative and adjudicative matters and would need to be addressed with caution so as to prevent the conversation from calling into question your impartiality in overseeing the matter."
Given these premises, it will be quite difficult for the judge to grant the interview and remain within the confines of the opinion. Perhaps that is the point. (Mike Frisch)
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