Which Part Of “A Judge Shall Perform Judicial Duties Without Bias” Confuses You, Your Honor?

Here are a few provisions of the Texas Code Of Judicial Conduct:

  • From the Preamble: “Intrinsic to all sections of this Code of Judicial Conduct are the precepts that judges, individually and collectively, must respect and honor the judicial office as a public trust and strive to enhance and maintain confidence in our legal system.”
  • “A judge shall comply with the law and should act at all times in a manner that promotes public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary.”
  • “Canon 2: Avoiding Impropriety and the Appearance of Impropriety in All of the Judge’s Activities”
  • “A judge shall not allow any relationship to influence judicial conduct or judgment. A judge shall not lend the prestige of judicial office to advance the private interests of the judge or others; nor shall a judge convey or permit others to convey the impression that they are in a special position to influence the judge.”
  • “A judge shall perform judicial duties without bias or prejudice.”
  • “A judge shall not, in the performance of judicial duties, by words or conduct manifest bias or prejudice, including but not limited to bias or prejudice based upon race, sex, religion, national origin, disability, age, sexual orientation or socioeconomic status, and shall not knowingly permit staff, court officials and others subject to the judge’s direction and control to do so.”
  • A judge shall conduct all of the judge’s extra- judicial activities so that they do not cast reasonable doubt on the judge’s capacity to act impartially as a judge..
  • “A judge may participate in civic and charitable activities that do not reflect adversely upon the judge’s impartiality or interfere with the performance of judicial duties.”

OK, now you’ve read  that, as presumably all Texas judges have. Now, if you were Bexar judge Rosie Speedlin Gonzalez, would your judicial ethics alarms start sounding as you considered displaying a rainbow flag in your courtroom, using a rainbow pen, a rainbow mouse pad and a robe with a rainbow-style strip of Mexican blanket design?

Well, hers didn’t, despite the fact that these are political as well as group support signals. The judge was admonished for the flag and other rainbow items, and she’s appealing the sanction. Among her defenses: Gonzalez argued that neither the pen nor the robe follow the rainbow flag’s sequence of colors. Yes, she really argued that. She is the the first openly gay judge elected in Bexar County.

She should be suspended for that disingenuous statement alone.

She also cited the First Amendment, which is, as she should know, usually irrelevant in matters of inappropriate judicial speech. The judge did have a point when she argued that two other judges have signaled their “team membership” in court, one by displaying an Irish flag, and another by wearing a cami robe. Yes, they should be reprimanded too. It doesn’t excuse her conduct. (She might check the Rationalizations List.)

The judge received a more serious punishment, a public admonition with a requirement of four hours of ethical instruction, for at least least eight Facebook posts she made congratulating winning lawyers for jury verdicts in her court while lauding their results and professional backgrounds. This sort of thing has gotten other judges in trouble as creating the appearance of impropriety, and suggesting favoritism as well as the perception that a judge is cheering for one side or the other.

The judicial ethics rules clearly prohibit such conduct. That this isn’t clear to Judge  Gonzalez is not a good sign.


Source: ABA Journal

15 thoughts on “Which Part Of “A Judge Shall Perform Judicial Duties Without Bias” Confuses You, Your Honor?

  1. When one reads stories like this and sees how these people present themselves to the citizenry, it causes me to wonder if their intention to warn those before them that social justice is being adjudicated rather than the actual law. Perhaps her decisions are truly based on the law, but her accoutrements tend to lead you to immediately think otherwise.

  2. Yet more proof that states that elect, rather than appoint, their judges, are out to lunch.

    In some Texas courts, judges don’t even need to be attorneys.

    • Not to detract from your point, but there is no requirement for Federal judges (even Supremes!) to be attorneys. 😦

    • Agreed, Arthur-No-Longer-in-Maine. Appointed would be preferable. And the appointees could probably use some (better) oversight too.

      • Trust me, in NJ judges are appointed, and we’ve gotten some real doozies. I’ve personally come up at least two judges who were drunks, three or four “angry black women” with chips on their shoulders and those voices that go right through you, four judges who just couldn’t be bothered to do their jobs, and sundry others whose main claim to the bench was who they knew or whose campaign they donated to.

        I still remember the judge who was the ramrod behind an overhaul of the discovery rules that made them more difficult, who regularly called lawyers idiots, incompetent, asinine, and other insults from the bench, and also openly said he was going to hurt attorneys and not lose a wink’s sleep over it. He got appointed to the bench, and almost immediately became the presiding civil judge, so he really didn’t spend too much time actually trying cases, just sitting in his high seat, issuing directives and refusing extensions and adjournment requests. Thankfully he hit mandatory retirement age 8 years ago. However, neither the bench nor the bar would throw him a retirement dinner, in fact he was told if they did, the attorneys would be lining up to punch his lights out. He’s almost 80 now, and the bar is waiting for him to die so we can all openly say EXACTLY what we thought of him (jerkass). Tom Kean apparently didn’t grasp the idea of not hiring or promoting jerkasses.

        The ultimate lousy appointment story is the story of another former presiding judge, previously a fairly lazy defense attorney, known for coming to court with money in her pocket to settle cases, who regularly made plaintiff’s attorneys wait till the end of the day to offer it. She was appointed with marching orders to clear the backlog in one county. She did it by ramming things ahead no matter what, creating a climate of fear, and regularly pouring scorn, ridicule, and abuse on the attorneys. Well, finally the bar decided they had had enough, and sent Andrew Napolitano, I think you know of him, to appear before her. He was a former judge himself, and still very politically powerful. She abused him, he made a few phone calls, and lo and behold, she lost the presiding judgeship, although she remained on the bench. You would have thought that she would have gotten the message. However, she later was dealing with a black pro se litigant who claimed he had not gotten the court’s notice about something in the mail. She snapped at him from the bench that she bet that his welfare check had no trouble reaching him. He called his assemblyman, his assemblyman called the chief administrative judge of the state (not to be confused with administrative law judges, which are something else altogether), and the chief administrative judge, a former corporation counsel of the City of Newark and also a black man, called this judge and told her she had until 4:30 p.m. that day to retire from the court. If she declined, or if her retirement papers were received at 4:31 p.m., he was going to personally enter an order at 9 a.m. the next morning removing her from the court and stripping her of all pension, health, and other benefits. She put in her papers, and is now reduced to being “of counsel” for some tiny firm with 3 lawyers. She put her name out there as available for mediations, et al., but no one has used her. Arrogant people and bullies get away with a lot of crap, but this was one arrogant bully who didn’t.

        Appointed judges suck just as much as elected ones.

        • I’ve no doubt about that, Steve – and appointments are still generally at the whim of the party in power. With that said, most voters know virtually nothing about law and the way it’s supposed to work. Thus, a nice yard sign photo and/or a catchy campaign slogan can be enough to grease through an incompetent. I’m also uncomfortable with the idea that a judge might let an upcoming re-election bid impact his or her actions in a given case.

          Voters regularly elect assholes (see: Obama, Barrack H.; Trump, Donald J.) And assholes certainly hire and/or appoint other assholes. As a layman, I still think it’s preferable that the winners on “Who Gets To Be a Judge?” are selected by people who have at least a tacit understanding of what goes into being one.

  3. A judge talking about the first amendment is pretty rich. There is no such thing in court. Unless she’s willing to forgo ever holding someone in contempt, ruling on an objection, or insisting in any order in a case, then she spends all day preventing the speech of others. It’s not “oppressing speech”, it is civil, orderly conduct.

    PS: That leads me to considering it absurd for a judge to make any rulings about ejecting the unruly from public meetings. You can’t dictate what they can talk about, but you can insist on order. The ruling that Trump can’t eject reporters who break rules is one example. If Trump were as petty as his detractors claim, he should visit the judge’s chambers and berate the judge, and use his secret service to insist that the judge has no authority to interrupt Trump’s rant until he’s done because it would interfere with Trump’s rights and separation of powers.

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