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In re Arkansas Code of Judicial Conduct

Supreme Court of Arkansas

December 15, 2016


          PER CURIAM.

         The Supreme Court adopts the following changes, effective immediately, to the Arkansas Code of Judicial Conduct in order to improve the Code to (1) ensure self-represented litigants were treated fairly, (2) address issues raised during past election cycles where the Code was not clear, (3) expand the Code's applicability to a judge-elect, (4) better advise judges what was and was not prohibited conduct, and (5) improve the judicial election process.

         Applicability of this Code

         (B) A judge, within the meaning of this Code, is anyone who is authorized to perform judicial functions, including an officer such as a, magistrate, special master, referee, or member of the administrative law judiciary. Members of the executive branch, such as administrative law judges and hearing officers, are not subject to this Code.

         RULE 2.2

         Impartiality and Fairness

         A judge shall uphold and apply the law, and shall perform all duties of judicial office fairly and impartially.

         B. A judge may make reasonable accommodations, consistent with the law and court rules, to facilitate the ability of all litigants to be fairly heard.


         [1] To ensure impartiality and fairness to all parties, a judge must be objective and open-minded.

         [2] Although each judge comes to the bench with a unique background and personal philosophy, a judge must interpret and apply the law without regard to whether the judge approves or disapproves of the law in question.

         [3] When applying and interpreting the law, a judge sometimes may make good-faith errors of fact or law. Errors of this kind do not violate this Rule.

         [4] The growth in litigation involving self-represented litigants and the responsibility of courts to promote access to justice warrant reasonable flexibility by judges, consistent with the law and court rules, to ensure that all litigants are fairly heard. Examples of accommodations that may be made include but are not limited to (1) making referrals to any resources available to assist the litigant in the preparation of the case; (2) liberally construing pleadings to facilitate consideration of the issues raised; (3) providing general information about proceeding and foundational requirements; (4) attempting to make legal concepts understandable by using plain language whenever possible; (5) asking neutral questions to elicit or clarify information; (5) modifying the traditional order of taking evidence; and (6) explaining the basis for a ruling.

         RULE 2.10

         Judicial Statements on Pending and Impending Cases

         (A) A judge shall not make any public statement that might reasonably be expected to affect the outcome or impair the fairness of a matter pending or impending in any court, or make any nonpublic statement that might substantially interfere with a fair trial or hearing.

         (B) A judge shall not, in connection with cases, controversies, or issues that are likely to come before the court, make pledges, promises, or commitments that are inconsistent with the impartial performance of the adjudicative duties of judicial office.

         (C) A judge shall require court staff, court officials, and others subject to the judge's direction and control to refrain from making statements that the judge would be prohibited from making by paragraphs (A) and (B).

         (D) Notwithstanding the restrictions in paragraph (A), a judge may make public statements in the course of official duties, may explain court procedures, and may comment on any proceeding in which the judge is a litigant in a personal capacity.

         (E) Subject to the requirements of paragraph (A), a judge may respond directly or through a third party to allegations in the media or elsewhere concerning the judge's conduct in a matter.


         [1] This Rule's restrictions on judicial speech are essential to the maintenance of the independence, integrity, and impartiality of the judiciary.

         [2] This Rule does not prohibit a judge from commenting on proceedings in which the judge is a litigant in a personal capacity, or represents a client as permitted by these Rules. In cases in which the judge is a litigant in an official capacity, such as a writ of mandamus, the judge must not comment publicly.

         [3] Depending upon the circumstances, the judge should consider whether it may be preferable for a third party, rather than the judge, to respond or issue statements in connection with allegations concerning the judge's conduct in a matter.

         RULE 2.11


         (A) A judge shall disqualify himself or herself in any proceeding in which the judge's impartiality might reasonably be questioned, including but not limited to the following circumstances:

         (1) The judge has a personal bias or prejudice concerning a party or a party's lawyer, or personal knowledge of facts that are in dispute in the proceeding.

         (2) The judge knows that the judge, the judge's spouse or domestic partner, or a person within the third degree of relationship to either of them, or the spouse or domestic partner of such a person is:

(a)a party to the proceeding, or an officer, director, general partner, managing member, or trustee of a party;
(b)acting as a lawyer in the proceeding;
(c)a person who has more than a de minimis interest that could be substantially affected by the proceeding; or
(d)likely to be a material witness in the proceeding.

         (3)The judge knows that he or she, individually or as a fiduciary, or the judge's spouse, domestic partner, parent, or child, or any other member of the judge's family residing in the judge's household, has an economic interest in the subject matter in controversy or in a party to the proceeding.


         (5)The judge, while a judge or a judicial candidate, has made a public statement, other than in a court proceeding, judicial decision, or opinion, that commits or appears to commit the judge to reach a particular result or rule in a particular way in the proceeding or controversy.

         (6)The judge:

(a)served as a lawyer in the matter in controversy, or was associated with a lawyer who participated substantially as a lawyer in the matter during such association;
(b)served in governmental employment, and in such capacity participated personally and substantially as a lawyer or public official concerning the proceeding, or has publicly expressed in such capacity an opinion concerning the merits of the particular matter in controversy; (c)was a material witness concerning the matter; or (d)previously presided as a judge over the matter in another court.

         (B)A judge shall keep informed about the judge's personal and fiduciary economic interests, and make a reasonable effort to keep informed about the personal economic interests of the judge's spouse or domestic partner and minor children residing in the judge's household.

         (C)A judge subject to disqualification under this Rule, other than for bias or prejudice under paragraph (A)(1), may disclose on the record the basis of the judge's disqualification and may ask the parties and their lawyers to consider, outside the presence of the judge and court personnel, whether to waive disqualification. If, following the disclosure, the parties and lawyers agree, without participation by the judge or court personnel, that the judge should not be disqualified, the judge may participate in the proceeding. The agreement shall be incorporated into the record of the proceeding.


         [1]Under this Rule, a judge is disqualified whenever the judge's impartiality might reasonably be questioned, regardless of whether any of the specific provisions of paragraphs (A)(1) through (6) apply. In many jurisdictions, the term "recusal" is used interchangeably with the term "disqualification."

         [2] A judge's obligation not to hear or decide matters in which disqualification is required applies regardless of whether a motion to disqualify is filed.

         [3] The rule of necessity may override the rule of disqualification. For example, a judge might be required to participate in judicial review of a judicial salary statute, or might be the only judge available in a matter requiring immediate judicial action, such as a hearing on probable cause or a temporary restraining order. In matters that require immediate action, the judge must disclose on the record the basis for possible disqualification and make reasonable efforts to transfer the matter to another judge as soon as practicable.

         [4] The fact that a lawyer, or a lawyer who practices with that lawyer, in a proceeding is affiliated with a law firm with which a relative of the judge is affiliated does not itself disqualify the judge. If, however, the judge's impartiality might reasonably be questioned under paragraph (A), or the relative is known by the judge to have an interest in the law firm that could be substantially affected by the proceeding under paragraph (A)(2)(c), the judge's disqualification is required.

         [4A] The fact that a lawyer in a proceeding, or a litigant, contributed to the judge's campaign, or publicly supported the judge in his or her election does not of itself disqualify the judge. However, the size of contributions, the degree of involvement in the campaign, the timing of the campaign and the proceeding, the issues involved in the proceeding, and other factors known to the judge may raise questions as to the judge's impartiality under paragraph (A).

         [5] A judge should disclose on the record information that the judge believes the parties or their lawyers might reasonably consider relevant to a possible motion for disqualification, even if the judge believes there is no basis for disqualification.

         [6] "Economic interest, " as set forth in the Terminology section, means ownership of more than a de minimis legal or equitable interest. Except for situations in which a judge participates in the management of such a legal or equitable interest, or the interest could be substantially affected by the outcome of a proceeding before a judge, it does not include:

         (1)an interest in the individual holdings within a mutual or common investment fund;

         (2)an interest in securities held by an educational, religious, charitable, fraternal, or civic organization in which the judge or the judge's spouse, domestic partner, parent, or child serves as a director, officer, advisor, or other participant;

         (3)a deposit in a financial institution or deposits or proprietary interests the judge may maintain as a member of a mutual savings association or credit union, or similar proprietary interests; or

         (4)an interest in the issuer of government securities held by the judge.

         RULE 2.16

         Cooperation with ...

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