Proposed Changes May Modernize the Illinois Code of Judicial Conduct

A proposal from the Illinois Judicial Ethics Committee (IJEC) may modernize the Illinois Code of Judicial Conduct, addressing many of the issues facing today’s judges, including the impact of social media and electronic communications as well as current cultural issues.

The Code of Judicial Conduct establishes standards of ethical conduct for judges and judicial candidates and provides a structure for regulating conduct through disciplinary agencies. The current Code has largely been in place since 1993.

The proposed Code is based on years of study by the IJEC, which brings the Code in line with the 2007 American Bar Association Model Code of Judicial Conduct. Most states have revised their Codes of Judicial Conduct in response to the ABA Model Code or are studying the subject.

Notable additions and amendments

The proposed Illinois Code of Judicial Conduct includes several notable additions and amendments, including:

  • Social media: Preamble, Paragraph 4 lays out the ways the Code governs a judge’s personal and judicial activities “in person, on paper, and by telephone or other electronic means,” including social media. It was added to alert judges to “the seemingly endless” ways judges have violated judicial conduct codes on social media and in other forms of electronic communications.
  • Recognized family relations: The proposed Code adds “domestic partner” to recognized family relations. The definition is consistent with the common understanding of domestic, non-martial relationships.
  • Financial disclosures: The proposal changes the yearly financial disclosures, including requiring more detailed information on assets owned and the names of lawyers and law firms worked within the previous three years. In addition, the proposed Code raises the threshold for reportable income and debt to $1,000.
  • Harassment: Proposed Rule 2.3 says judges shall perform their duties and court proceeding must be conducted without “bias, prejudice, or harassment based upon race, sex, gender, gender identity, religion, national origin, ethnicity, pregnancy, disability, age, sexual orientation, marital status, socioeconomic status, or political affiliation.” The Code’s previous language was updated to include the categories gender, gender identity, ethnicity, marital status, pregnancy, and political affiliation, as well as prohibiting harassment.

Feedback and next steps

The Supreme Court Rules Committee held a remote public hearing on Wednesday, February 2, 2022, to hear public testimony on the proposed Illinois Code of Judicial Conduct.

The IJEC proposal has been endorsed by the Illinois Judges Association (IJA), the Illinois State Bar Association (ISBA), and the Chicago Bar Association (CBA). (The IJEC is a joint committee of the IJA, the ISBA, and the CBA, but acts independently of its constituent organizations.)

To watch the live testimony and review the public comments, click here.

The Rules Committee will now send its recommendations to the Illinois Supreme Court, which will review and accept, modify, or decline the new Code.

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