Appellate court judges attend ethics seminar

June 15, 2001

Supreme Court justices and Court of Appeals judges on Thursday attended an ethics seminar at the University of Mississippi School of Law at Oxford.

Topics included campaigning, legal ethics, the role of the courts, judicial power and lobbying, among others.

Supreme Court Chief Justice Edwin L. Pittman said that in his 12 years on the bench, it is the first seminar that he recalls that has dealt exclusively with ethics for appellate court judges. Six of the Supreme Court justices and nine Court of Appeals judges attended.

Pittman said the ethics discussion "will help us know better how to do our jobs and help us know better how to protect the integrity and the fairness of the court. Nothing is more important than our fairness and our integrity."

Speakers included University of Mississippi School of Law Professors Timothy Hall and Jack Nowlin, law school Dean Samuel M. Davis, political science Professor John Winkle and Jackson attorney Robert Cannada of the firm of Butler, Snow, O'Mara, Stevens and Cannada.

Hall, who teaches legal ethics, professional responsibility and constitutional law, discussed ethics from the perspective of the Mississippi Code of Judicial Conduct, state law and the holdings of ethics rulings in other states.

Hall said, "These rules were developed out of this desire to preserve the integrity of the courts and the independence of the courts."

Pittman noted that judicial campaign advertising and candidate conduct may be addressed in an ongoing revision of the Code of Judicial Conduct. Pittman has proposed a provision under the canons for creation of an election committee to act on complaints of campaign improprieties.

Judicial elections in Mississippi are non-partisan.

Hall said that in an ideal world, politics would not touch the judiciary. But, Hall said, "Judges almost inevitably have had some association with the political world as they came to their seats."

Hall said, "Mississippi now has a specific statutory prohibition against aligning yourself with either candidate or political party during the election campaign."

Other restrictions for judges include that they are prohibited from holding office in a political organization, making speeches for political organizations or endorsing candidates for political office. They also may not personally solicit campaign funds, but must appoint a committee to do that for them.

Hall also reviewed strict limits on what judicial candidates can say."Prohibited pledges have included saying you are tough on crime, for example," Hall said. "That undermines the impartiality of judges, and it especially undermines this notion that judges take cases one by one as they come," Hall said.

Pittman said the entire program was videotaped to be used in the future as part of orientation for new appellate judges.

Pittman expressed thanks to Dean Davis, Chancellor Robert Khayat and Mississippi Judicial College Director Leslie Johnson for arranging the seminar.

For more information, call Beverly Pettigrew Kraft, court public information officer, at 601-354-7452.