CONDUCT SETTLEMENT CONFERENCES

Opinion No. 121 (1988)*


QUESTION: May a district judge conduct settlement conferences for suits filed (1) in his court or (2) in another judge's court, where he only conveys settlement offers and asks question? In the conference he sets no values, gives no opinions, and discloses no confidential information.

ANSWER: Although judges should encourage settlement negotiations, the described procedure appears to make the judge a mediator. Canon 5E of the Code Of Judicial Conduct prohibits a judge from being a mediator. Also, Canon 3A(5) states, "A judge...shall not directly or indirectly initiate, permit, nor consider ex parte or other communications concerning the merits of a pending or impending judicial proceeding." (emphasis added)

The committee is of the opinion that the use of the settlement procedure outlined above by a district judge would be a violation of Canons 5E and 3A(5) of the code. Whether the litigation is filed in the judge's court or any other court makes no difference. The committee notes that Canon 5E is not applicable to all classifications of judges. See, Canon 8.

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*Canons 3A(5) and 5E were amended effective December 19, 1989.