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August 14, 2017: "The Ethics of a Circuit Judge."

Today I want to talk about the ethics of being a Circuit Judge, or, put another way, the way Judges are supposed to behave, on and off the bench.

The expectations of judicial office are pretty high; for example, Judges are obliged to perform their duties full time, to divest themselves of all closely-held businesses, and to generally avoid all appearances of impropriety. Judges are also expected to limit their public comments on most subjects and, in the case of other elected officials and candidates, to avoid discussion entirely.

A sensible Judge, recognizing the remarkable good fortune that accompanies election to this office, doesn't mind such constraints and dedicates him/herself to performing duties well and setting a good example of service within the community.

I am certain that most Judges understood this expectation even before they first donned a black robe. For those who did not, however, the Illinois Supreme Court has provided a handy reference to guide them. That guide is called the Code of Judicial Conduct and it is embedded in the same Supreme Court rules that govern all Illinois attorneys (Supreme Court Rules 61-68 as a matter of fact). Here is a link to that Code.

These judicial rules of conduct (called "Canons") are very detailed, but can be summarized as follows:

1. A judge should devote full time to his or her judicial duties, and should dispose promptly of the business of the court.

2. A judge should observe high standards of conduct so that the integrity and independence of the judiciary may be preserved; judicial duties of a judge take precedence over all the judge's other activities.

3. A judge must accept restrictions on his or her conduct that might be viewed as benefiting private interests and should do so freely and willingly.

4. A judge may engage in civic, charitable and law-related activities outside of court (i.e., speak, write, lecture, teach) as long as doing so does not cast doubt on his or her capacity to impartially decide any issue that may come before him or her in court.

5. A judge cannot manage any other business, must limit himself to passive investments, and avoid any investments that would appear to affect his impartiality.

6. While Judges can be members of political parties, they must avoid commenting on public officials or endorsing anyone for office.

7. Judicial candidates are held to an extremely high standard of conduct during a campaign.

I can simplify these rules even better: A Judge should do his job, set a good example, and stay out of politics. Judges who can do this will serve their community well and bring honor to their office.

If I am elected to the position of Circuit Judge, citizens can count on me to do the following:

1. I will dedicate myself to the job of a Circuit Judge, to fairly and efficiently administer justice to all who come before the Court;

2. I will refrain from managing any other businesses, or involvement in any controversial investment while serving as a Judge.

3. I will continue to serve in civic and charitable institutions (such as my current activities as a Board Member at OSF Heart of Mary Hospital, as a District Chairman for Prairielands Boy Scout Council, as a coach for youth sports, and as a volunteer at my parish church), but I will immediately curtail any out-of-court activities that interfere with my judicial responsibilities.

4. I will teach law students and assist in continuing legal education programs for Attorneys and Judges if the opportunity arises, but only if it does not interfere with my court-related responsibilities.

5. I will speak before civic organizations and other public gatherings who seek my input if it will help educate the public about the law and the roles we all play in its development.

6. While I may accept reimbursement for the cost of getting to and from such gatherings, I pledge that I will never give a paid speech as a Judge. The Code may allow it, but I believe the citizens who already pay the salaries of Judges are entitled to whatever appropriate remarks I may make about the law at public gatherings.

In making these pledges, I am reminded of something one of my favorite judges once said to me during a hearing: "The citizens of this community have elected me to come here every day and resolve their disputes. They've given me the best job in the world and I owe it to them to do so patiently and fairly."

That is my personal code of judicial conduct. Being a Judge is the best job in the world, and, if elected, I will strive every day to be worthy of it.

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