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My Favorite Resource Featuring James Alifni

Nicole Wilmet, October 1st, 2019

Our series My Favorite Resource, features interviews with ADR friends across the country to learn about their favorite resources. This month, I spoke with James Alfini, RSI Board Member and Dean Emeritus and Professor of Law at South Texas College of Law, to learn about his favorite resource.

NW: What is one of your favorite ADR resources?

JA: My favorite resource is the Center for Judicial Ethics (CJE) at the National Center for State Courts (NCSC). The Director of the CJE is Cynthia Gray who had been at the helm for well over twenty years when the CJE was located at the American Judicature Society. When AJS was dissolved a few years ago, soon after it had celebrated its 100th anniversary, Cindy Gray and the CJE moved to the NCSC.

NW: How did you first learn about the Judicial Ethics Center?

JA: I worked at the American Judicature Society (AJS) in the 1970s and 1980s and helped to organize the Center for Judicial Conduct Organizations, the predecessor of the Center for Judicial Ethics. AJS, as the premier court reform organization in the twentieth century, had been the catalyst for the establishment of state judicial conduct organizations to receive, investigate, and prosecute charges of judicial misconduct. These were viewed as necessary counterparts to judicial independence to insure that judges were not only independent but accountable to the public and would be held to high standards of conduct. The first judicial conduct organization was established in California in 1961. There are now state level judicial disciplinary organizations in every state and the District of Columbia. The CJE serves a very valuable function in reviewing and cataloging the decisions of the judicial conduct organizations and state high courts. These decisions are based on the judicial ethics rules adopted in each state, and usually referred to as the code of judicial conduct for that state.

NW: Why do you value this particular resource?

JA: The Center for Judicial Ethics is the national clearinghouse for information on judicial ethics and discipline. It is an essential resource for the state judicial conduct organizations in researching instances of judicial misconduct and applying relevant provisions of the code of judicial conduct. It is also the key resource for me and my co-authors of our treatise, Judicial Conduct and Ethics, which is currently in its 5th edition. The CJE also publishes the Judicial Conduct Reporter and other materials on judicial ethics. It responds each year to numerous inquiries from citizens, journalists, lawyers, court administrators and judges. Every other year CJE holds a national conference on judicial conduct and ethics.

NW: What interests you most about judicial ethics?

JA: In a democratic society, it is essential that we have an impartial judiciary of great integrity. That is, a judiciary that is beyond reproach and worthy of the public trust. Standards of judicial ethics permit us to hold our judges accountable and thus worthy of that public trust. It is an essential tool in holding judges accountable for their actions and is thus an important counterpart to the independent judiciary we value in a democratic society.

NW: For those unfamiliar with the Judicial Ethics Center, what’s one aspect of the Center that you wouldn’t want someone new to the resource to miss?

JA: For my colleagues in the court ADR field, I would stress that there are intersections between judicial ethics and court ADR. For example, a provision in the code of judicial conduct in most states requires judges to make appointments impartially and avoid the appearance of favoritism. This would include the appointment of mediators and other dispute resolvers. In Texas, ethical concerns about judicial selection of mediators (often turning on whether the mediator contributed to the judge’s re-election campaign) prompted the passing of a state statute, which mirrored the ethics rule (requiring fairness and transparency in the selection of mediators). The CJE thus offers the court ADR community an important resource on judicial ethics rules and cases.

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