August 09, 2017

Annual 2017: Judicial ethics to be examined in light of Trump attacks, public scrutiny

It’s a tough time to be a judge. In the past year, judges have come under an unusual barrage of attacks from the White House and others. A federal judge in California is accused of harboring animosity toward a civil defendant because of his Mexican heritage. Another judge is belittled as a “so-called judge.” And the courts as an institution are accused of being “slow and political.”

What’s a judge to do? Can he or she respond? If so, how? It not, what can judges do to defend themselves without violating judicial ethics?

These questions and more will be raised at a panel discussion during the ABA Annual Meeting on Friday, Aug. 11, at 2:30 p.m. The free CLE program will be held at the Marriott Marquis, in the eighth-floor Manhattan Ballroom.

The seventh annual Forum on Judicial Independence is titled “Judicial Ethics in the Time of Fake News, New Media and a New Administration.” It will feature a panel of judges and journalists:

  • Royce C. Lamberth – Senior judge of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia

  • Jonathan Lippman – Former chief judge of the New York State Court of Appeals, currently of counsel with Latham & Watkins

  • Johnnie B. Rawlinson – Judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit

  • Chris Geidner – Legal editor for BuzzFeed News

  • Benjamin Holden – The program’s moderator, professor of media law at the University of Illinois

Judges on the panel will discuss how they deal with political pressures, public scrutiny and media coverage. The three judges have nearly 70 years of combined experience on the bench, and all three have presided over cases that were politically sensitive.

“The intersection of courts, politics and news reporting is always tricky,” Holden said. “It gets even trickier when it involves the president of the United States himself and accusations of bias and fake news. This should be an interesting discussion.”

Lamberth is former presiding judge on the U.S. Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. Lippman was a strong advocate for legal aid to low-income New Yorkers. Rawlinson is the first African American woman judge on the Ninth Circuit appeals court.

Journalists on the panel will discuss the pressures of covering the law and courts in a rapidly shifting media environment. As newspaper circulation and local TV news viewership decline, social media is rising to take its place. Courts are covered in a way they never have been before – in a 24/7 news environment where even the smallest developments are covered as breaking news and endlessly dissected on social media.

The event is co-sponsored by the ABA Standing Committee on the American Judicial System and the National Judicial College.