- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 17, 2009

WASHINGTON (AP) - The nation’s federal judges adopted revised ethics rules Tuesday that for the first time define the “appearance of impropriety” that must be avoided. But those revised rules still allow individual judges to decide what is acceptable.

In the first major changes to the ethics rules in 17 years, the judges said an appearance of impropriety occurs when reasonable minds agree that “the judge’s honesty, integrity, impartiality, temperament, or fitness to serve as a judge is impaired.” The new rules take effect July 1.

Chief Judge Anthony J. Scirica of the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia, said no incident prompted the new definition. Scirica, chairman of the executive committee of the Judicial Conference of the United States, said the judges wanted to provide a clear statement of judges’ duties.

The Judicial Conference is the policymaking body for the federal judiciary.

But even with the new definition, the ethics code still leaves much discretion to judges.

Two federal judges, for example, remain on the board of a corporate-funded group that provides free seminars and trips to judges even after a third judge quit on the recommendation of a judicial ethics panel.

The two judges, Chief Judge Danny J. Boggs of the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati and Judge Edith Clement of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans, sit on the board of the Montana-based Foundation for Research on Economics and the Environment, according to the group’s Web site.

U.S. District Judge Andre Davis of Baltimore has said he resigned from the board after he received a private opinion from the federal judiciary’s Codes of Conduct Committee.

The panel concluded, Davis said in a 2007 court proceeding, that “there was, shall we say, tension between one or more of the canons that applied to federal judges and the appearance of a judge, federal judge, as a member of the board of directors” of the foundation.

Boggs attended Tuesday’s meeting of the judges at the Supreme Court, where Scirica said the ethics rules were adopted without disagreement.

“Our system encourages judges to seek ethical advice and to do it on a confidential basis,” Scirica said. “We don’t have a merchanism for issuing a blanket prohibition.”

The judges also voted to ask Congress to create 51 new trial court judgeships and 12 new appeals court posts to help cope with heavier caseloads.

Since the last major increase in judicial slots in 1990, appellate filings are up 42 percent while district court filings have increased by 34 percent.

Congress did not heed a similar call made two years ago, but Scirica said leading Democratic and Republican senators spoke favorably about the proposal Tuesday.

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