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ABA panel recommends softening of judicial ethics standards

[JURIST] An American Bar Association (ABA) [profession website] panel has proposed revisions to its judicial code of conduct [DOC text] so that judges are advised to avoid impropriety but would no longer be subject to formal discipline for failing to do so. In the rewritten ABA Model Code of Judicial Conduct [text, 2004 edition], judges are still instructed to "avoid impropriety and the appearance of impropriety," but changes in the code remove references to it being a mandatory rule, making the standard merely a suggestion to judges. The controversial amendment has both supporters and critics, and has led to the resignation of Robert Tembeckjian, administrator of the New York State Commission on Judicial Conduct [official website] and a former adviser to the ABA commission. In his resignation letter Saturday, Tembeckjian said removing the mandatory language of the impropriety rule reduces the standard to a "virtually meaningless phrase."

The changes to the judicial code mark the first major revisions since 1990, but before it is formally adopted, it must be approved by the ABA's House of Delegates [ABA backgrounder] who are expected to vote on the revisions at a meeting [agenda] next week. Many states look to the ABA's code before revising their own canons for judicial conduct. Tuesday's New York Times has more.

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