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Judiciary Takes Action to Ensure High Ethical Standards and Transparency

High ethical standards and transparency are essential to an independent Judiciary and to maintaining the public’s trust, a federal judge told (pdf) a House subcommittee today.

“The statutes and case law on recusal, the Code of Conduct provisions, as well as the Judiciary policies, practices, and enforcement mechanisms … are the tools and resources available to the federal Judiciary and to the public to ensure the functioning of an ethical and independent judicial branch and to enhance the public’s trust in the Third Branch,” said Judge Jennifer Walker Elrod, chair of the Codes of Conduct Committee of the Judicial Conference of the U.S. who serves on the Fifth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals..

Testifying before the House Judiciary Committee Subcommittee on Courts, Intellectual Property, and the Internet, Elrod explained that in addition to the recusal statutes and the Code of Conduct, the random assignment of cases and the policies adopted by the Judicial Conference provide additional obligations and safeguards.

For the past 15 years, the Judicial Conference has required federal courts to use conflict-checking computer software to help identify cases in which judges may have a financial conflict of interest and should disqualify themselves. Judges also are required to develop and maintain recusal lists and, with the assistance of clerk’s offices’ automated conflict screening, personally review their matters for conflicts.

Ethics education is provided regularly for judges and Judiciary employees, including law clerks, staff attorneys, clerks of court, and judicial assistants.

“Our extensive training effort underscores the value and the importance the federal Judiciary places on ethical conduct,” Elrod said.

In recent months, Judge Roslynn R. Mauskopf, the director of the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts, has asked the relevant Judicial Conference committees to consider recommendations that seek to clarify or improve the conflict screening process.

“As Chair of the Codes of Conduct Committee, and on behalf of the Judicial Conference of the United States, I assure you the federal Judiciary takes these obligations seriously,” Elrod said. “We have taken and will continue to take action to ensure ethical obligations, including recusal and reporting requirements, are met.”

Related Topics: Judicial Ethics