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Supreme Court Says Judges Must Be Ethical

The chief justice of the Supreme Court in his year-end report called on federal judges to work hard to adhere to ethics rules after over 100 were caught violating a rule that requires judges recuse in any matter in which they have a personal financial interest.  Chief Justice John Roberts cited a Wall Street Journal investigation that uncovered violations by 131 federal judges across 685 cases between 2010 and 2018.  (Keep in mind that is now between 4-12 years ago – not even currently.)

The George W. Bush nominee portrayed the number of violations as small, noting that they represented less than three-hundredths of one percent of the 2.5 million civil cases filed in the district courts in years studied.

“Let me be crystal clear: the Judiciary takes this matter seriously. We expect judges to adhere to the highest standards, and those judges violated an ethics rule. But I do want to put these lapses in context,” he said.

The wording drew a response by James Grimaldi, one of the Journal investigators, who said his team investigated tens of thousands of cases, not 2.5 million.

“The Jour­nal’s ini­tial tally was an undercount; it was impossible because of the peculiarities of the judiciary’s financial-disclosure process and incomplete information available on case litigants,” Grimaldi wrote on Twitter, adding that Roberts’ comment “is technically accurate, the suggestion that we could review millions of cases is misleading.”

The Journal said Friday that subsequent reporting raised the rally to at least 950 violations.

Roberts also pointed out that most of the judges involved only had one or two identified violations, painting those instances as likely “unintentional oversights” while singling out judges who had more violations or said they didn’t know of the ethics rule. Each judge is schooled on ethical duties, Roberts noted.

He also said that top federal legal experts are already working on addressing the problems, including enhancing the ethics training and refresher courses.  This is not a situation for top legal experts, this is a situation for common sense and wisdom.  You do not need a diploma or a degree to understand the issue with Ethics and Civility.  The answer is the same for judges, politicians, adults, and children.  Entitlement equals incivility.

When a child believes they are entitled to a toy, when a politician believes they are entitled to prestige, when an adult believes they are entitled to a benefit, and when a Judge believes they are entitled to a position they forget that they are children of God.  We are all created by God and operate under his Authority.  When Children, Adults, Politicians, and  Judges attempt to define what another is entitled to have, or under which set of rules one group of people will operate over another, a sense of incivility is created.

Incivility is a general term for social behavior lacking in civility or good manners, on a scale from rudeness or lack of respect for elders, to vandalism and hooliganism, through public drunkenness and threatening behavior. The word “incivility” is derived from the Latin incivilis, meaning “not of a citizen”.

Founding Father of the United States, George Washington, wrote and practiced “110 Rules of Civility & Decent Behavior in Company and Conversation” (pdf) in his lifetime.  Washington wrote these etiquette rules in his journal when he was young. He learned about these influential writings from the divine wisdom coming from French Jesuits in 1595. Some etiquette Washington lived by included being respectful of others, being honest, dressing neatly and exemplifying good taste, not indulging in gossip or combative behaviors, and learning from virtuous people and those with wisdom.

The result of his teachings, which he personally followed, was cultivating respect for oneself and others by practicing such etiquette principles, thus, avoiding a destructive spiral in one’s energies, and instead, leading to harmonious interactions with one’s environment, bringing about greater wellbeing.

It must feel good for our society and community to hear the highest “Court in the Land” remind Judges that they must be ethical and then try to qualify the unethical behavior.  As an attorney, we must swear an oath to be civil and now judges have to be reminded to be ethical.  What happened to the “Good Old Days” of respecting each other and where high character, service, and reputation actually mattered.

If we as citizens, under the law, strip away the entitlement and return to the mentality of service then so to will we return the harmonious interactions that George Washington spoke of.  At Winslow Law, we work tirelessly to be a positive influence within our community and for our clients.  It does us no good to litigate a case, if it does not benefit our client.  Please let us know if you believe Winslow Law can benefit you in any legal need you may have.

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