Judges in America have rules they must follow. Actually, not exactly rules but Canons. For 23 years, I've heard of "Judicial Canons" – 3 in law school and 20 as a lawyer. But, up until today, I never looked up the definition of "canon". So, here is what I read, "The part of the Mass beginning after the Preface and Sanctus and ending just before the Lord's Prayer."
That doesn't sound right, so I clicked on another definition, "the most solemn and unvarying part of the Mass including the consecration of the bread and wine". I don't know if that is a step in the right direction, but I do like the wine part. One more click, "a fundamental principle or general rule: the canons of goodbehavior." Now, we are getting somewhere. Good behavior.
Next step, dig into Ohio's Canons for judges. There are 4. Don't want to overwhelm the judges with too many Canons.
Canon 1: A judge shall uphold and promote the independence, integrity, and impartiality of the judiciary and shall avoid impropriety and the appearance of impropriety.
Canon 2: A judge shall perform the duties of judicial office impartially, competently, and diligently.
Canon 3: A judge shall conduct the judge's personal and extrajudicial activities so as to minimize the risk of conflict with the obligations of judicial office.
Canon 4: A judge or judicial candidate shall not engage in political or campaign activity that is inconsistent with the independence, integrity, or impartiality of the judiciary.
I am going to explore these 4 Canons over the next week or so and I'll start with #4. Quite timely because we have Decision 2012 in a fortnight.
Canon 4 has five Rules. Each Rule has many comments to explain the Rules that are used to define each Canon. Comments nest inside Rules that nest inside Canons. There is so much nesting going on that I am only going to focus on Rule #1 inside Canon #4.
Judges can campaign but they just can't tell you how they feel or would rule on say, abortion or the reliability of breath testing machines. They can be general but not too specific. That is a mighty fine tight rope to walk. They cannot promise to be a certain way on issues. Is anyone paying attention to this over the last 2 decades of Ohio Supreme Court battles? Personal views are not prohibited but somehow we, the electorate, are supposed to believe that a judge will divorce his or her personal values and beliefs when it comes time to construe a statute?
I could never figure out how a judge can go in front of the Editorial Board of the Columbus Dispatch or Plain Dealer and come out with an endorsement without violating, somehow, this Rule. How a person will vote on highly controversial topics such as tort reform is exactly why the editor of the newspaper wants you in front of them to begin with.
If you are still reading this and haven't fallen asleep yet, you are going to have to wait for me to plow through Rules 2 and 3 before we get to the fun one – Solicitations for Money.