BOSTON, MA -- The Justices of the Supreme Judicial Court today announced that they have adopted a new Massachusetts Code of Judicial Conduct, effective as of January 1, 2016. The Code of Judicial Conduct establishes standards for the ethical conduct of judges.
The Supreme Judicial Court Committee to Study the Code of Judicial Conduct, formed in 2012 and chaired by Appeals Court Justice Cynthia J. Cohen, reviewed the existing Massachusetts Code of Judicial Conduct in light of the Model Code of Judicial Conduct adopted by the American Bar Association in 2007. The committee included judges from each of the seven Trial Court Departments, the Appeals Court, lawyers, and professors with expertise in ethics. The existing Massachusetts Code of Judicial Conduct was adopted in 2003, and was based on the American Bar Association's Model Code of 1990. The new Code is available on the court system's website: http://www.mass.gov/courts/docs/sjc/rule-changes/sjc-rule-309-amended-jan-2016.pdf
A summary of key new and revised provisions of the new Code is online here: http://www.mass.gov/courts/case-legal-res/ethics-opinions/judicial-ethics-opinions/code-of-judicial-conduct-summary-of-key-new-and-revised-provisions-jan-2016.html
"The Justices are very grateful to Justice Cohen and the members of the committee for their extraordinary work on this project," said Supreme Judicial Court Chief Justice Ralph D. Gants. "Judges remain obligated under the new Code to maintain the highest standards of independence, integrity, and impartiality, and to avoid both impropriety and the appearance of impropriety. The new Code also recognizes and clarifies that in today's world the maintenance of these standards is compatible with judicial engagement with the Bar and the public, and with making reasonable accommodations to ensure that self-represented litigants are fairly heard."
"The adoption of the 2016 Massachusetts Code of Judicial Conduct is the culmination of more than three years of comprehensive study of the Model Code, other states’ codes, statutory and case law, ethics opinions, and legal scholarship by an incredibly hard-working committee made up of judges, lawyers, and academics," said Appeals Court Justice Cohen. "The final product was improved significantly as a result of suggestions received during the comment period, and the comprehensive review performed by the Supreme Judicial Court. As a result, the 2016 Massachusetts Code of Judicial Conduct is better organized and offers more specific guidance than our present code."
"One of the notable benefits of the new Code is the recognition that judges can and should be actively involved in their communities in ways that are consistent with the requirements of judicial independence, integrity and impartiality," said Lisa Goodheart, Esq., a committee member and attorney at Sugarman, Rogers, Barshak & Cohen, P.C. "It’s not good for anyone to require the judiciary to lock itself away too much from the rest of the world, as bar associations and other members of the legal community have long understood. Public confidence in and support for the judiciary requires that judges get out into the world and explain to people how our justice system works, and having a Code that not only tolerates that but affirmatively encourages it is a very welcome development."
In addition to Justice Cohen, the following served on the committee:
The following served on the committee for some period of time: Honorable Peter W. Agnes, Jr., of the Appeals Court; Professor Luke Bierman, formerly at Northeastern University School of Law; and Honorable James F. McHugh, retired, Appeals Court.
In addition to the new Code, a new Rule for the Committee on Judicial Ethics has been adopted. The Rule includes a new provision that authorizes the Justices of the Supreme Judicial Court to issue an Ethics Advisory to clarify the meaning and application of any provision of the Code of Judicial Conduct, and to expound upon provisions of the Code that are of broad interest and application. A link to the amended S.J.C. Rule 3:11, Committee on Judicial Ethics, is online here: http://www.mass.gov/courts/docs/sjc/rule-changes/sjc-rule-311-amended-jan-2016.pdf
The Justices have also made new appointments to the Committee on Judicial Ethics, effective January 1, 2016. Hon. Cynthia J. Cohen will serve as chair. New members to the Committee are: Hon. Linda Fidnick, Probate & Family Court; Hon. Angel Kelley-Brown, Superior Court; Professor Renée M. Landers, Suffolk University Law School; and Hon. Janet J. McGuiggan, District Court.