Judge R. Lanier Anderson III was nominated in 1979 to the U.S. Court of
Appeals for the Fifth Circuit (redesignated the Eleventh Circuit in
1981). He was appointed to the Judicial Conference Committee on Codes of
Conduct in 1987 and has been chairman of the committee since 1992.
Q: The Codes of Conduct Committee may be one of the less visible
committees of the Judicial Conference. What is its role and function?
A: The Codes of Conduct Committee is the committee authorized by the
Judicial Conference to give advice on ethical questions that arise under
the codes of conduct and the Ethics Reform Act and related regulations.
The codes of conduct contain general ethical standards on avoiding
impropriety and the appearance of impropriety, while the Ethics Reform
Act provisions regulate acceptance of gifts and honoraria as well as
outside earnings and employment activities. In an average year, the
committee and its staff receive close to 100 requests for a written
advisory opinion and over 200 telephonic inquiries seeking informal
guidance. Most inquiries are from judges, who often seek advice on when
they must recuse themselves because of financial or family interests. We
also receive requests for advice from judicial employees, for example,
on whether certain outside businessrelated or political activities are
Q: What about members of thepublic? Does your committee provide advice
to them as to whether a judge has acted ethically?
A: No, the committee's jurisdiction is limited to advising judges and
judicial employees about the ethical propriety of their own activities.
We are not an enforcement committee, and we do not accept or process
complaints from the public about judges and judicial employees. I should
add that my committee also does not have responsibility for reviewing
and filing the annual financial disclosure reports; that function is
handled by the Financial Disclosure Committee, which is chaired by Judge
Frank J. Magill (8th Cir.).
Q: I know the Codes of Conduct Committee has been working for some time
on a new consolidated code of conduct for judicial employees, which was
recently circulated for public comment. Can you tell us what the
committee is doing and why?
A: The committee reviewed the six existing employee codes of conduct to
see whether we could consolidate them into a single code because the
committee believed that one code would be more efficient and accessible.
We noted in that review that the six existing codes are expressly
applicable only to the named employees, for example clerks and deputy
clerks, probation and pretrial services officers, circuit executives,
staff attorneys, federal public defenders, law clerks, and a few
designated employees of the AO, although others, such as judges'
secretaries, would be covered derivatively.
The committee has drafted a proposal that consolidates five of the six
existing codes into one consolidated code and that extends code coverage
to all judicial employees (other than those specifically excluded from
coverage). The consolidated code incorporates revisions recently made to
the judges' code and streamlines and updates other provisions. The
proposal was circulated for public comment last fall, and then revised
and circulated for a second round of comments this spring. We hope to
review any additional comments this summer and make a recommendation to
the September 1995 Judicial Conference for adoption of a final
consolidated code. I should add that we do not plan to include federal
public defenders and their employees in the consolidated code. Instead,
we propose to maintain a separate defender code but to revise it to
correspond to the consolidated code. This spring, the committee also
circulated for public comment proposed revisions to the defender code.
Q: How does the proposed consolidated code differ from the existing
A: There are several importantdifferences. First, the new code will
extend to virtually all
judicial employees, including many who are not expressly covered by an
existing code. Second, the consolidated code contains a new conflict of
interest provision that generally restricts employees from performing
official duties in areas where they have a personal or financial
interest of the sort that would cause reasonable people to question
whether they could perform their official duties impartially. The new
provision is based on existing code principles but provides more
specific guidance to employees about avoiding obvious conflicts of
interest. Third, several provisions relating to employees' activities
outside of the office have been revised and tailored more narrowly to
ensure that the code does not unduly infringe on employees' involvement
in civic, social, and related pursuits.
The committee believes that the consolidated code will be a useful and
more specific guide for judicial employees, and also that the adoption
process, with its circulations for comment, will serve an important
Q: What general guidance canyou provide to judges and judicial employees
who are asked to participate in political activities?
A: Judges, of course, are strictly prohibited from involvement in
political activities by Canon 7 of the Code of Conduct for United States
Judges. Judicial employees also are generally restricted from partisan
activities but most may engage in nonpartisan activities; the
consolidated code proposes to retain this general approach. We have
received a number of questions in this area recently, particularly in
the wake of the 1993 Hatch Act Amendments, which relaxed the
restrictions on partisan political activities by executive branch
employees. The Hatch Act does not itself apply to the Judiciary, but the
committee considered a similar relaxation of the existing judicial
standards to allow judicial employees fuller participation in political
affairs. Because of the singular role of the Judiciary, the committee
has serious concerns about the need to protect the integrity of the
Judiciary from association with partisan politics and from the
appearance of partiality and lack of objectivity that could follow,
which led us to recommend no relaxation of these provisions. Judicial
employees, therefore, should continue to adhere to existing restrictions
on involvement in political activities.
Q: Some employees find it difficult to obtain information about ethics
requirements. Can you describe what materials are available?
A: Almost all ethics-related materials in the Judiciary are published in
Volume II of the Guide to Judiciary Policies and Procedures. This volume
contains all of the codes of conduct (Chapters I and II); excerpts of
relevant statutory provisions and the regulations on gifts and on
outside earnings and employment (Chapter VI); and published advisory
opinions (Chapter IV). Two years ago, the committee compiled a
Compendium of Selected Opinions summarizing the advice given by the
committee over the past 20 years; the Compendium is also published as
Chapter V of Volume II and provides useful guidance on a range of
important issues covered by the canons and the Ethics Reform Act
(relating to restrictions on gifts and honoraria and outside earned
income). The compendium's Table of Contents facilitates location of
relevant materials. In talking with judges across the country, the
committee has noted that many judges' copies of Volume II have not been
kept up to date, thus seriously inconveniencing judges when they consult
it. As part of our educational efforts, the committee is suggesting to
judges that they keep their copy of Volume II close at hand and that
they urge their clerical support to keep it up-to-date by filing all
transmittals from the AO promptly.
Judges and judicial employees who have ethical questions are encouraged
to consult these materials for guidance, and employees should also
consult with their supervisors. If questions remain, judges and judicial
employees may contact their circuit representative on the committee or
the committee's counsel in the AO General Counsel's Office for informal
guidance, or may request a confidential advisory opinion from the
The committee's conversations with hundreds of judges leads us to
believe that judges are increasingly sensitive to the canons and their
ethical obligations. There seems to be widespread compliance with the
letter and spirit of the canons.
In this era of increasing public scrutiny and even suspicion of all
human institutions, it is more important than ever for judges to be
sensitive to the provisions of the canons. For that reason, the
committee is taking steps to enhance its educational efforts both for
judges and for judicial employees.
From The Third Branch, May 1995 Issue
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