February 9, 2009
And The Winner Is Not...
A recent opinion from the Massachusetts Committee on Judicial Ethics deals with the propriety of a judge receiving an award or other recognition from an organization that has members who may appear before the judge:
Public confidence in a justice system's true impartiality depends at least as much on the appearance of impartiality as it does on the reality. But the appearance of impartiality can be degraded by the cumulative impact of many small incursions just as surely as it can be by a few instances of major dereliction. Accordingly, the Code of Judicial Conduct was designed to operate in a strongly prophylactic manner to prevent the subtle erosion of public confidence that, if unchecked, inevitably undermines confidence to the point of collapse. The code's prophylactic requirements do not prohibit judges from accepting all awards and they do not keep judges from appearing at all award ceremonies. But, as presently written, the code's requirements do prohibit judges from accepting awards from individuals and firms who are likely to appear in the courts where they sit and the code's requirements do prohibit judges from accepting awards at events those firms and individuals publicly sponsor.
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