April 12, 2013
In 2011, pursuant to California Rules of Court, rule 9.80, the Supreme Court established the Supreme Court Committee on Judicial Ethics Opinions (CJEO) “to help inform the judiciary and the public concerning judicial ethics topics.” According to this press release and this article from Law360, the CJEO recently issued its first formal opinion, to address whether judges can encourage attorneys to advocate on behalf of the courts. This topic has particular relevance given the massive cuts to the judicial branch’s budget, which we recently discussed here, in connection with the Chief Justice’s State of the Judiciary speech to the Legislature.
No doubt to the relief of the judges presiding over California’s cash-strapped courts, the committee has unanimously concluded that it is proper for judges to make such requests of the bar. The opinion states: “In the committee’s opinion, it is permissible and appropriate for a judge to invite lawyers to a meeting to provide information about budget cuts and their potential impact on the administration of justice and to request help in reducing the cuts or ameliorating the impacts.” However, as Law360 puts it, the opinion also “instructs judges to be mindful of creating the impression that they are coercing cooperation or suggesting that an attorney will get favorable treatment if they cooperate.”