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New code guides judges' business behavior

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The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania approved its updated Code of Judicial Conduct last week, which bans any state judge from serving on a commercial company's board, though judges can continue to serve on the boards of nonprofit organizations.

The code also adds specific language about hiring policies and club memberships.

“For courts in western democracies to effectively render independent and impartial decisions, the public’s confidence in the integrity of the judicial system and its judges is essential,” Chief Justice Ronald D. Castille said. “The Code of Judicial Conduct is designed to foster that confidence by assisting judges in their adherence to the highest judicial and personal conduct standards. It also establishes a basis for disciplinary agencies to regulate judges’ conduct.”

The policies went into effect Jan. 1, according to the court. Any judge sitting on the board of directors for a commercial company must resign by July 1, 2015, according to the code.

Art Heinz, spokesman for the Unified Judicial System of Pennsylvania, said there is no full list of judges in Pennsylvania who sit on boards of commercial companies. Pennsylvania Bar Association Communications Manager Jeff Gingerich said his organization also did not have a list. Heinz said the rule came out of “anecdotal” conversations about judges in other parts of the state thought to hold such positions, but not in the midstate.

He added the new code does not cover district magisterial judges, who have their own code of conduct.

The updated code also includes a new rule on hiring decisions based on nepotism, stating that appointments and hiring decisions should be based on merit, not nepotism or favoritism.

One other update bans judges from being members of clubs that practice “invidious,” or hateful, discrimination. Heinz said there is no definitive list of such clubs.

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