- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 8, 2004

SAN ANTONIO (AP) — The American Bar Association is working on new conduct rules for judges, such as when they should withdraw from a case.

The issue has gained prominence with the disclosure that Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia went on a hunting trip with Dick Cheney shortly after the high court agreed to hear a case involving the vice president.

A new commission discussed ethics rules over the weekend during the ABA’s meeting in San Antonio.

The last major changes to the ethics code were approved by the 400,000-member lawyers group about 13 years ago.

The ABA writes conduct rules for judges and lawyers. States and federal courts generally adopt them, with some changes.

The commission’s final plan eventually could affect thousands of judges. Members say it would have little effect on the nine Supreme Court justices, who have no written ethics rules.

“They’re the United States Supreme Court, is all I can say. Sort of like the big elephant. Where does he sit? He sits anywhere he wants to sit,” said North Carolina Court of Appeals Judge James Wynn Jr., a commission member.

New York University ethics expert Stephen Gillers said some justices follow the ABA guidelines even though they are not policy.

Congressional Democrats have said questions about Justice Scalia’s trip show the court needs a procedure for conflict-of-interest charges.

Justice Scalia maintains he did nothing improper by duck hunting with Mr. Cheney in Louisiana last month, three weeks after the Supreme Court agreed to hear the vice president’s appeal in a case involving private energy task force meetings.

Justice Scalia has the backing of Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist, who rebuffed Senate Democratic leaders last month. He said in a letter that each justice “strives to abide by” federal laws, including a requirement that jurists stay out of cases in which their impartiality might be questioned.

At issue in the Cheney appeal are details of closed-door White House strategy sessions that produced the administration’s energy policy.

The information is being sought by several groups, including the Sierra Club, which may file a request for Justice Scalia’s withdrawal from the case before Supreme Court arguments this spring.

The ABA commission plans to have ethics proposals ready by the end of the year. The most likely proposed changes include:

• Adding rules for judges to report colleagues who have alcohol, drug or emotional problems.

• Spelling out what judges can say about issues, especially when they are campaigning for office.

• Clarifying when judges must stay out of cases in which their family members have an interest.

• Putting the requirements in a new, more straightforward format.

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