January 17th, 2023, Court Leader’s Advantage Podcast Episode

Brought to You in Cooperation with NACM

Every state in our nation has a Judicial Code of Conduct.  Every judge in each state is obligated to follow that state’s Code.  Since 1973, most Federal judges have been subject to The Code of Conduct for United States Judges.  There is only group exempt from the duty to follow these codes.  That group consists of the Justices of the United States Supreme Court.

To be fair over the years, accusations of scandal have been rare within the Court.  Until recently one had to go back to Abe Fortas who in 1969 was accused of accepting a retainer from a private foundation.  Lately however claims of bias have been on the rise. Justices are known to receive monetary advances for book deals. There have been accusations of inappropriate public comments; premature information on upcoming decisions disclosed; even draft opinions leaked.    

As a result, public approval of the Court has sharply declined. A recent Gallup Poll showed 40% of the public approving of the Supreme Court while 59% disapproved.[1]


[1] Dallas Sun, 12/4/2022

This month we are asking should the United States Supreme Court adopt a Code of Conduct?  Adopting such a Code might help to rehabilitate the Court’s image.  On the other hand, a Code could damage if not destroy the court’s independence.

Questions to Explore

  • What are implications of adopting a code; what are the implications of doing nothing?
  • Are existing safeguards enough?  Justices must submit financial disclosure forms and that they are prohibited from accepting gifts that could influence their judicial decision-making.  Are these safeguards adequate?
  • Voluntary recusal from a case is the chief remedy for judicial conflict of interest.  Is that sufficient?

Listen to the January 17, 2023, CLAPodcast Episode on your way to or from work. 31 Minutes 51 Seconds

Watch the January 17, 2023, CLAPodcast Episode 33 minutes 59 seconds

Become part of the conversation! Email us at CLAPodcasts@nacmnet.org

Today’s Panel

The Honorable Edward J. Spillane is the Presiding Judge with the Municipal Court in College Station, Texas. He has served in this position since May 2002. Prior to this, he served as an Assistant District Attorney for Brazos County for eight years and as an associate for the law firm Fulbright & Jaworski for two years.

Judge Spillane received his undergraduate degree from Harvard University, and his law degree from the University of Chicago.

He is past President of the Texas Municipal Courts Association (TMCA); the 1st VP on the TMCA’s Board; was a member of the State Commission on Judicial Conduct representing all Texas Municipal Courts; is a member of the Texas Judicial Council; a member of the National Task Force on Fines, Fees, and Bail Practices; and a board member of the Misdemeanor Justice Project of the John Jay School of Criminal Justice in New York.

Judge Spillane has written articles in numerous publications, including The Washington Post, Texas Town and City, and the University of Chicago magazine. His articles have focused on the plight of indigent defendants and also the benefits of mindfulness in the courtroom.

He has taught on behalf of the Texas Municipal Courts Education Center and several national organizations.

 The Honorable Sherry Stephens retired from the Maricopa County Superior Court bench where she served from 2001 through 2021.  She served on the Criminal Department, the Civil Department, the Juvenile Department, Family Department, and as a special assignment judge.  Prior to that she was with the Arizona Attorney General’s Office, serving under five attorneys general. She worked as the Chief Counsel for the Organized Crime and Racketeering Section for twelve years. She also served as a Special Assistant United States Attorney on several cases.   Arizona State University College of Law Outstanding Alumna 1998. State Bar of Arizona Distinguished Public Lawyer 1997.

Karl Thoennes began his career in the courts in Alaska in 1988, ultimately working as a division supervisor at the state’s largest trial court in Anchorage.  He was appointed as Court Administrator in Todd County, Minnesota in 1998, and then Stearns County, St. Cloud, two years later.  In 2004 he was appointed as Administrator for the Second Judicial Circuit in South Dakota, the state’s largest circuit by population.  Karl has served as speaker or panelist on a number of state, regional, and national programs including conferences for the National Association for Court Management, the Mid-Atlantic Association for Court Management, and various other colleges, universities, and professional associations in Minnesota and South Dakota. 

Do You Want to Know More?

Most Judges Support the U.S. Supreme Court Having an Ethics Code

Congressional Research Service

Should the U.S. Supreme Court Have an Ethics Code?

The Effort to Implement a Supreme Court Code of Ethics

Supreme Court Needs an Ethics Code

Why Don’t the Supreme Court Justices Have an Ethics Code

There is an active Committee on Codes of Conduct that functions under the U.S. Judicial Conference [About the Judicial Conference | United States Courts (uscourts.gov)].  This committee responds to questions asked by judges and staff about issues, sometimes by informal responses but often with formal, written opinions  Judiciary Policies | United States Courts (uscourts.gov)].

Time Marker Sheet

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