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Jul 11, 2006, 02:44 pm CDT

A commission has postponed plans to ask the House of Dele­gates to consider proposed changes to the ABA Model Code of Judicial Conduct this August during the association’s annual meeting in Honolulu.

Instead, the Joint Commission to Evaluate the Model Code of Judicial Conduct, which has been reviewing the code and drafting revisions since 2003, now plans to submit its final report later this year for consider­ation by the House of Delegates in February during the ABA’s 2007 midyear meeting in Miami. The 549-member House sets policy for the association.

The delay isn’t due to any single factor, says commission chair Mark I. Harrison of Phoenix. It’s just that the job of putting finishing touches on the commission’s final proposed revisions has taken longer than expected, he says.

The 11-member commission had scheduled a two-day meeting in April to finalize its proposed code revisions in time to meet the May 10 deadline for submitting reports with recommendations to the House of Delegates for consideration in Hawaii. (There are procedures for bringing late recommendations to the House on matters that call for consideration on an expedited basis.)

The meeting started off well. The commission slowly but methodically made its way through the first three of the Model Code’s five canons during a 10-hour session on the first day, Harrison says. But halfway through the second day, commission members found themselves only midway through canon four. “It quickly became evident we weren’t going to be able to do the kind of job we were obligated to do in the allotted time frame,” Harrison says. “And, in the final analysis, we all agreed it was more important to do a top-quality job than to try to meet some arbitrary deadline.”

POINTS OF CONTROVERSY

Canon four, which deals with extrajudicial activities, and canon five, which covers political activities by judges, have raised some of the most difficult issues for the commission in its review of the Model Code and led to some of its most controversial draft proposals. (The ABA Model Code of Judicial Conduct serves as a basis for judicial conduct rules adopted at the state level.)

As recently as the ABA Midyear Meeting in February, some of the commission’s proposed language in canon four came under fire from representatives of various legal organizations. They testified at a hearing that judges might be prevented from participating more fully in law-related civic and charitable activities of their communities. After that hearing, the commission dropped the offending language, proposing instead to allow a judge’s charitable and civic activities to be governed by other pro­visions of the Model Code.

Under the commission’s proposed revisions, canon four also would continue to allow judges to be reimbursed for travel expenses associated with their attendance at educational programs and other permissible extrajudicial activities. It would, however, offer guidance on what factors a judge should take into account before accepting such an invitation and provide rules for reporting those trips.

The commission’s proposed revision of canon five would prohibit judicial candidates from personally soliciting campaign contributions. It also would prohibit judicial candidates in nonpartisan elections from identifying their political affiliations or receiving endorsements from political organizations.

Harrison says the commission is unlikely to make any major substantive changes in its proposed revisions. But he doesn’t rule out the possibility, either.

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