Supreme Court adopts Code of Judicial Conduct and revises rule of attorney discipline

April 4, 2002

Administrative Office of Courts

The Mississippi Supreme Court on Thursday adopted a new Code of Judicial Conduct and revised a rule of attorney discipline to prohibit readmission to the practice of law of felons convicted of crimes of deceit and certain drug crimes.

The code adopted today made slight revisions to the proposal offered by the court on Feb. 8. It differs from the first proposal submitted by the court for public comment on Oct. 25, 2001. The court, which received more than 100 letters in response to the request for public comment, incorporated the suggestions and concerns of members of the bench and bar and the public.

Supreme Court Chief Justice Edwin Pittman on Thursday said, "The adoption of these rule changes first give the public some protection that Mississippi's system of justice will remain a system of integrity and honor, and, secondly, they protect the individual judge's environment so that the judge may contemplate concerning the application of law and have the protected environment to arrive at just decisions. We are trying to assure judges that they are free from outside influences and that they can bring their knowledge and their integrity to every case.

I am proud that the court has acted in the way it has acted."

Pittman said, "Our judges are people of high integrity and we have a very good judicial system, but we must be vigilant in protecting our system and keeping it as good as it is."

Pittman noted that the Code of Judicial Conduct has not undergone an extensive revision since it was adopted in 1974 by the Mississippi Conference of Judges. Pittman said the code adopted today tracks many provisions of the current American Bar Association model code.

Justice George C. Carlson Jr. said, "We've got an excellent judiciary. We are proud of our judiciary. This will make us all do better."

Referring to the rule of attorney discipline, Pittman said, "We are trying to assure the public that litigants have a fair opportunity to gain justice in our court system. On the recommendation of the Mississippi Bar, we are trying to tighten the standards for readmission of disbarred lawyers. We would prohibit from readmission lawyers who have taken from clients or defrauded clients or sold drugs, all in an effort to protect the public as a consumer of legal services."

Some of the provisions of the Code of Judicial Conduct include:

The five-member judicial election trouble-shooting team will investigate allegations of campaign misconduct. If the special committee finds evidence of some campaigning impropriety, it may issue a confidential cease-and-desist request to the candidate. Canon 5F includes language which states that if a cease-and-desist request is disregarded or if unethical or unfair campaign practices continue, the committee may issue a public statement about violations.

The Special Committee on Judicial Election Campaign Intervention will conduct the course. Candidates for judicial office, their election committee chairpersons or the chairperson' designees are required to complete the two-hour course no later than 20 days after the qualifying deadline for candidates.

Canon 3 E (2) says, "A party may file a motion to recuse a judge based on the fact that an opposing party or counsel of record for that party is a major donor to the election campaign of such judge. Such motions will be filed, considered and subject to appellate review as provided for other motions for recusal." Earlier proposed language, now withdrawn, would have made recusal mandatory in cases involving a major donor.

The code says, "A 'major donor' is a donor who or which has, in the judge's most recent election campaign, made a contribution to the judge's campaign of (a) more than $2,000 if the judge is a justice of the Supreme Court or judge of the Court of Appeals, or (b) more than $1,000 if the judge is a judge of a court other than the Supreme Court or the Court of Appeals."

The code added a cross-reference to the Uniform Rules of Circuit and County Court Practice and the Uniform Chancery Court Rules. The rules state that if a hearing is held on a motion to recuse a judge, the hearing must be conducted in open court.

The code does not include the peremptory recusal provision that had been proposed to allow litigants to reject a judge without stating a reason. That proposal was withdrawn.

The code prohibits bias or prejudice "based upon race, gender, religion, national origin, disability, age, sexual orientation or socioeconomic status." The code prohibits judges from having membership in "any organization that practices invidious discrimination on the basis of race, gender, religion or national origin." The entire code was rewritten to make all references gender-neutral.

In revising the Rules of Discipline for the Mississippi Bar, the Supreme Court changed Rule 12 to make ineligible for reinstatement an attorney convicted for any felony crime that "involves interference with the administration of justice, false swearing, misrepresentation, fraud, deceit, bribery, extortion, misappropriation, theft, the sale or distribution of a controlled substance, or an attempt, conspiracy or solicitation of another to commit such a crime."

The revision to the rules of attorney discipline came at the request of the Mississippi Bar. The Bar has sought to prohibit readmission to practice by all convicted felons except those convicted of manslaughter or violations of the Internal Revenue Code.

For more information, contact court Public Information Officer Beverly Pettigrew Kraft at 601-354-7452. The Code of Judicial Conduct is available on the Supreme Court's web site, www.mssc.state.ms.us. See today's hand down list.

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