Friday, February 25, 2005

What are the real ethical issues judges face?

Judge Alex Kozinski offers a very thoughtful discussion of judicial ethics in the Jan.-Feb. 2005 issue of Legal Affairs ("The Appearance of Propriety").

The canons of judicial ethics are often concerned with the appearance of impropriety -- like judging in a case where you own a few shares of stock of one of the corporations involved. But Judge Kozinski says the danger of being swayed by the prospect of stock dividends (in small amounts) is nothing next to the "hidden" ethical questions judges face, such as:

  • work allocation -- does a judge devote enough attention to each case, even the "small" ones?
  • work delegation -- does a judge hand over too much of the judging to staff attorneys and clerks?
  • ambition -- would a judge be tempted to decide a hot case one way in order to get publicity? how about deciding cases in a way that will make it more likely for the President to nominate the judge for a higher position?
  • doing justice versus applying the law -- should a judge ever bend the law to serve justice?

The piece in Legal Affairs was adapted from a longer article: Alex Kozinski, The Real Issues of Judicial Ethics, 32 Hofstra L. Rev. 1095-1106 (2004).

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