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Court Leader's Advantage

71 EpisodesProduced by Peter C. KieferWebsite

Coming innovations, thought-provoking trends, questions that matter to the court community, these and more themes are covered by the Court Leader’s Advantage podcast series, a forum by court professionals for court professionals to share experiences and lessons learned.


Courts and Ethics: Should the U.S. Supreme Court Adopt a Code of Conduct?

January 17th, 2023, Court Leader’s Advantage Podcast Episode

Every state in our nation has a Judicial Code of Conduct. Every judge in each state is obligated to follow that state’s Code.  Since 1973, most Federal judges have been subject to The Code of Conduct for United States Judges.  There is only group exempt from the duty to follow these codes. That group consists of the Justices of the United States Supreme Court.

To be fair over the years, accusations of scandal have been rare within the Court. Until recently one had to go back to Abe Fortas who in 1969 was accused of accepting a retainer from a private foundation. Lately however claims of bias have been on the rise. Justices are known to receive monetary advances for book deals. There have been accusations of inappropriate public comments; premature information on upcoming decisions disclosed; even draft opinions leaked.

As a result, public approval of the Court has sharply declined. A recent Gallup Poll showed 40% of the public approving of the Supreme Court while 59% disapproved.[1]

This month we are asking should the United States Supreme Court adopt a Code of Conduct? Adopting such a Code might help to rehabilitate the Court’s image. On the other hand, a Code could damage if not destroy the court’s independence.

Questions to Explore

· What are implications of adopting a code; what are the implications of doing nothing?

· Are existing safeguards enough? Justices must submit financial disclosure forms and that they are prohibited from accepting gifts that could influence their judicial decision-making. Are these safeguards adequate?

· Voluntary recusal from a case is the chief remedy for judicial conflict of interest. Is that sufficient?

Today’s Panel

· The Honorable Ed Spillane, Judge of the Municipal Court in College Station, Texas.  Judge Spillane is the Presiding Judge with the Municipal Court in College Station, Texas. He has served in this position since May 2002. Prior to this, he served as an Assistant District Attorney for Brazos County for eight years and as an associate for the law firm Fulbright & Jaworski for two years.  Judge Spillane received his undergraduate degree from Harvard University, and his law degree from the University of Chicago.

· The Honorable Sherry Stephens, retired Judge with the Superior Court in Maricopa County, Arizona.  Judge Stephens retired from the Maricopa County Superior Court bench where she served from 2001 through 2021.  She served on the Criminal Department, the Civil Department, the Juvenile Department, Family Department, and as a special assignment judge.  Prior to that she was with the Arizona Attorney General's Office, serving under five attorneys general. She worked as the Chief Counsel for the Organized Crime and Racketeering Section for twelve years. She also served as a Special Assistant United States Attorney on several cases.

· Karl Thoennes, Court Administrator with the 2nd Judicial Circuit Court in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.  Karl began his career in the courts in Alaska in 1988, ultimately working as a division supervisor at the state’s largest trial court in Anchorage.  He was appointed as Court Administrator in Todd County, Minnesota in 1998, and then Stearns County, St. Cloud, two years later.  In 2004 he was appointed as Administrator for the Second Judicial Circuit in South Dakota, the state’s largest circuit by population.  

[1]Dallas Sun, 12/4/2022

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