The Virginia Judicial Inquiry and Review Commission (JIRC) has filed a complaint against two retired judges alleging that they violated the state’s judicial ethics code by campaigning against a referendum to relocate the Augusta County courts.
According to news reports, the judges criticized the proposed move in speeches to citizen groups and in newspaper commentaries. They also contributed $5,800 to an anti-courthouse relocation organization. Apparently, the JIRC concluded that opposing relocation of a courthouse violates Canon 5A(3) of the Virginia Code of Judicial Conduct which prohibits judges from engaging in political activity “except in behalf of measures to improve the law, the legal system, or the administration of justice.”
Contrary to the JIRC’s position, judicial ethics advisory committees have concluded that matters of courthouse construction, renovation, and relocation concern the administration of justice and therefore constitute a proper subject of comment by judges. That is why the Washington State Ethics Advisory Committee informed judges that they could speak before Rotary Clubs and issue press releases in support of a bond campaign for a new juvenile court facility. The Arkansas Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee agreed that a judge may take a public position “in favor of, opposed to, or indifferent to” a proposed tax increase to fund a new courthouse and jail. Common sense dictates that judges possess relevant information concerning the need to revamp or abandon court facilities.
Claims of unethical conduct have not been lodged against Chief Judge Thomas, Judge Bea, and Judge Kozinski for their testimony opposing the restructuring of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals before a subcommittee of the House Judiciary Committee. There seems to be little difference between federal judges trying to defeat a congressional proposal by presenting their arguments to Congress and C-SPAN, and state judges trying to defeat a referendum by presenting their arguments to the voters.