Change in Rules Clarifies Non-Judicial Members’ Role in Court of Judicial Discipline

A change made to the Pennsylvania Code of Judicial Conduct earlier this year clarified the clause prohibiting judicial candidates from making statements that “commit or appear to commit” candidates regarding cases. Similarly, the rule governing the political activity of non-judicial members of the Pennsylvania Court of Judicial Discipline also was changed earlier this year in order to clarify the rule.

The rule governing the political activity of non-judicial members of the Pennsylvania Court of Judicial Discipline was changed earlier this year in order to clarify and tighten the rule. According to Henry B. FitzPatrick Jr., counsel for the Court of Judicial Discipline, the language of Section C of Rule 7 of the “Rules Governing the Conduct of the Members of the Court of Judicial Discipline” was clarified in order to strengthen the rule governing against members of the court in charge of judicial discipline from aiding the election of judicial candidates.

“We want to be stronger about judicial candidates staying out of helping anybody becoming a judge,” FitzPatrick said. “Obviously this court has jurisdiction over judges … The hope is that this rule change will make it easier to understand.”

Similarly, a widely-publicized change made to the Pennsylvania Code of Judicial Conduct clarified the clause prohibiting judicial candidates from making statements that “commit or appear to commit” candidates regarding cases.

The rule originally said, “Non-judicial members of the court shall not hold office in any political party or political organization during the member’s term of service, and should refrain from political activity inappropriate to the member’s judicial office.”

The “should refrain from political activity inappropriate to the member’s judicial office” clause was removed.

The rule also originally said, “Non-judicial members should not act as leaders in any political organization or make speeches for or endorse a candidate for judicial office or judicial appointment.”

This part of the rule has been changed to read: “Non-judicial members should not act in any capacity in any political organization of a candidate for judicial office or judicial appointment.”

The rule also originally said that “non-judicial members should not publicly solicit or contribute funds for a candidate for judicial office or judicial appointment and nor serve as officers, members or volunteers in the campaign of a candidate for judicial office.

The rule has been changed to read: “Non-judicial members should not publicly endorse a candidate for judicial office or judicial appointment and should not solicit or contribute funds for a candidate for judicial office.”

The court’s eight members include two nonjudge, lawyer members and two lay people.

Just as the “commit or appear to commit” clause in the Code of Judicial Conduct was excised because of the critique of ambiguity, the prior language in the Court of Judicial Conduct rules barring court members from “inappropriate” political activity was taken out because people will have differing interpretations of what’s inappropriate, FitzPatrick said.

“I bet what you think is inappropriate is different than what I think,” FitzPatrick said.

FitzPatrick, who has been counsel to the court since 1997, said the rule was drafted shortly after the court started in 1994. The rule was changed in February, he said.

— Amaris Elliott-Engel, Staff Reporter

 

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