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.