April 19, 2012
Meritorious But Unethical
A recent judicial ethics opinion from Oklahoma:
Question: May a judge participate in a "Court School" program designed to help children, in a mock court scenario, to get more comfortable in preparing to testify in court in child abuse cases in which they were the alleged victim?
Facts: One of the programs of a Child Abuse Network is to conduct "Court School" designed to reduce a child’s stress and anxiety before the child must appear at a hearing, the object being to improve the credibility of the witness and competence as a witness, according to information generated by the local District Attorney’s Office. The release states that this is a collaborative effort of the Child Abuse Network, District Attorney’s Office and the County Bar Association. The judge posing the question states that the Executive Director of the County Bar Association advised that he is unaware of any present involvement of the County Bar with the program. The website of the District Attorney’s Office states "Court School is needing voluntary judges. Court School is put on by the Victim Witness Center. It is a mock court scenario to help kids get used to a courtroom before their court dates. Court School meets from 6-7. The dates volunteers are needed for the year are attached. Please let me know if you are able to help on any of these dates. Thank you." This communication was sent to the judges of the county.
Answer: Such participation is prohibited by the Oklahoma Code of Judicial Conduct.
A judge acts on behalf of the judicial system and the system must maintain independence and impartiality. That the judge participating in such a program would not participate as a judge in the individual case does not alter the reality or perception created.
Because of the unique position a judge holds in our constitutional system of government, this is but another example of a judge being prohibited from participating in a project of undoubted merit, just as a judge is prohibited from fund raising for good and worthwhile projects, or being prohibited from exercising civic responsibility to engage in political activities.
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