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December 1998

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This article is in the news archives --- for current news go to the Third Branch News.


First Complete Review of Ethics Opinions Ends

The first comprehensive review and revision of the Judiciary's 94 advisory opinions on ethics has been completed. The task, which took nearly two years, was undertaken by the Judicial Conference Committee on Codes of Conduct.

Historically, advisory opinions have been drafted by the committee in response to inquiries from judges or judicial employees on frequently raised issues or where an issue may have broad application. But with some opinions dating back to the 1970s, it was not uncommon for them to include advice that was superseded or qualified by changes in the codes of conduct, the Ethics Reform Act of 1989, and subsequent published ad-visory opinions. Although individual opinions had been revised over the years, this is the first time all opinions have been scrutinized and updated.

"Some of the older opinions the committee reviewed were not entire-ly accurate in light of changes to the various codes of conduct and conse-quently were more likely to befuddle than enlighten their readers," said Judge Carol Bagley Amon, chair of the Committee on Codes of Conduct. "The committee wants judges and judicial employees to maintain the highest ethical standards, so it is extremely important that accurate, up-to-date guidance be provided."

More than a dozen of the old advisory opinions were withdrawn. The remaining opinions were updated or revised to reflect current codes, concepts, and laws. A few overlapping opinions were consolidated. For example, the old advisory opinion on law clerks' bonuses contained majority and minority views that may have been confusing. The opinion was rewritten to streamline and clarify the advice. In another example, two opinions covering extrajudicial compensation and honoraria were combined.

In response to confidential inquiries from judges and judicial employees, the Committee on Codes of Conduct provides confidential advisory opinions on the application of the Code of Conduct for U.S. Judges and other judicial branch codes of conduct. The committee also publishes opinions on selected issues and recommends modifications of the various codes of conduct to the Judicial Conference.