January 01, 2015 Judicial Ethics

Innovations and Ethics

By Marla N. Greenstein

The main principle that guides the remainder of judicial ethics is found in Rule 1.2 of the Model Code of Judicial Conduct: “A judge shall act at all times in a manner that promotes public confidence in the independence, integrity, and impartiality of the judiciary, and shall avoid impropriety and the appearance of impropriety.” Judges who follow these principles will essentially be following the entire Code.

Several articles in the current Judges’ Journal issue suggest innovative approaches to judicial decision making, responding to security concerns, and assuming leadership roles. Each of these innovative approaches can further a judge’s adherence to Rule 1.2 but also poses a challenge of inadvertently eroding the public’s confidence in the traditional judicial roles.

In the area of security, the need for personal safety may, at times, require the presence of law enforcement in the courtroom. Their mere presence can affect the tone and tenor of the proceedings that day. So too, in the alternative dispute resolution recommendations for assessing participants’ potential for violence, the mere process of assessing the individual may impact the impartiality of the mediator or arbitrator.

In “The Judge as Servant-Leader” piece, the innovative approach is a recognition that the distance and authoritarian roles that judges need to have on the bench can hinder effective leadership when off the bench. But how far can a judge leave the traditional persona behind without affecting the public’s view of the judge? The concepts of listening, striving to understand, and awareness are certainly skills that a judge can develop both on and off the bench and can enhance the public’s confidence in that judge. But “persuasion,” if not handled deftly, can confuse others. Judges will be viewed as judges even when not wearing a robe.

By successfully integrating new behaviors and concepts, judges can lead and guide more effectively than under traditional models. In fact, innovative approaches, when incorporated thoughtfully and with care, will enhance public confidence in the integrity of our courts and the judges who serve on them.

Judge Teitelman’s Waymaker interview illustrates this effective integration. A strong advocate for justice to the unrepresented proved to be a needed dimension for an appellate court judge. Where experience off the bench enhances a judge’s awareness and sensitivity to the parties who come before the courts, the appearance of fairness is a natural accompaniment. So, too, where procedural innovations through electronic filing, increased security, and direct access to court documents mean greater access to the court system and judicial resolution in a safe environment, public confidence will increase. Judges can experiment, innovate, and grow. And by thoughtfully embracing innovation, judges will embody the integrity of the justice system.