Wednesday, January 15, 2014

PA Supreme Court Expands Code of Judicial Conduct

Last week the Pennsylvania Supreme Court updated the Code of Judicial Conduct, the first changes since 1992, reported the Philadelphia Inquirer.
Pennsylvania's 450 judges are now barred from hiring relatives and must bow out of cases in which any of the lawyers have given them substantial campaign donations as well as remove themselves from corporate boards.
These are among the highlights in a revised code that now stretches to 41 pages - three times the length of the old one. Most of the changes take effect July 1, though judges have until July 1, 2015, to step down from corporate boards.
The judicial canons, as they are called, are not criminal statutes, but judges have been suspended and even removed for violating them.
The new code says judges "shall avoid nepotism, favoritism, and unnecessary appointments." The old one said judges should only appoint "on the basis of merit, avoiding favoritism." The old one did not contain the word nepotism.
In another major change, the new code says judges should disqualify themselves in cases in which lawyers before them have given campaign donations big enough to "raise a reasonable concern" about their ability to be fair.
This change brings Pennsylvania into line with a 2009 U.S. Supreme Court decision that ordered the chief justice of West Virginia to recuse himself from a $50 million case against a coal company whose chief executive had spent $3 million to help elect him.
The new rule requiring judges to step down from for-profit corporate boards, except those of family-owned businesses, also is in line with the model code.

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