MEETING WITH COUNTY COMMISSIONERS
CONCERNING COUNTY'S CASES

Opinion No. 133 (1990)


FACTS ASSUMED: A Commissioners Court developed a concern about a judge's impartiality in eminent domain cases and about behavior of the judge "which may indicate a prejudice" against the County. Two members of the Commissioners Court requested a meeting with the judge to make the judge aware of this concern before public Commissioners Court discussion or action. No pending or future case would be discussed.

QUESTION: Should a judge meet with County Commissioners to discuss previous decisions in cases in which the County was a party?

ANSWER: No. The Committee concludes that such a meeting would be inconsistent with the following provisions of the Code of Judicial Conduct:

The Canon 1 provision that an independent judiciary is indispensable to justice in our society.

The Canon 2A provision that a judge should promote public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary. The Committee believes that the proposed private meeting, between a judge and the principal officers of one party to a series of lawsuits, would tend to impair public confidence in the impartiality of the judiciary.

The Canon 2B provision that a judge should not convey or permit others to convey the impression that they are in a special position to influence the judge.

The Canon 3A(1) provision that a judge should be unswayed by partisan interests, public clamor, or fear of criticism.

The Canon 3A(5) provision that a judge shall not directly or indirectly permit private communications concerning the merits of a pending proceeding. The Committee believes that under the circumstances stated a meeting to discuss previous decisions in eminent domain cases would give the appearance of being a meeting concerning decisions in pending or future eminent domain cases.

Although the Supreme Court has abrogated the Code of Judicial Conduct provision [Canon 3A(8)] that a judge shall abstain from public comment about a pending or impending proceeding in any court, the members of this Committee agree that such comments are unethical. By attending such a meeting about previous decisions a judge would give the appearance of accepting an invitation to comment on impending decisions in similar cases.

The Canon 7(2) provision that a judge shall not make pledges or promises regarding judicial duties other that the faithful and impartial performance to the duties of office. The Committee believes that by attending such a meeting a judge would give the appearance of accepting an invitation to give assurance concerning decisions in pending and future eminent domain cases.