Proposed Code of Conduct for court system employees

first_img July 1, 2002 Regular News Proposed Code of Conduct for court system employees Proposed Code of Conduct for court system employeescenter_img Here are the highlights of the proposed Code of Conduct for Court Employees:• Canon 1: A court employee shall uphold the integrity and independence of the judiciary and the court employees’s office. “An independent and honorable judiciary is indispensable to justice in our society. Court employees shall personally observe high standards of conduct so that the integrity and independence of the judiciary are preserved. Court employees shall maintain and observe the highest standards of integrity, honesty, and truthfulness in their professional and personal dealings.”• Canon 2. Court employees shall avoid impropriety and the appearance of impropriety in all their activities. Examples of improper conduct include: trying to get a traffic ticket or parking violation fixed; using official letterhead for private business correspondence; carrying a business card reflecting an official relationship with the courts unless authorized by the appropriate authority; discussing the merits of cases pending before the court with litigants, counsel or other persons who do business with the court in a manner that gives the appearance of preferential treatment.Court employees may not knowingly make false entries on time cards or personnel records; backdate a court document; falsely claim reimbursement for mileage or expenses; misuse the telephone, fax machine, or copying machine; or take supplies home for private use.“Such conduct may be punishable as theft under the criminal statutes,” the proposed code says.• Canon 3: A court employee shall adhere to appropriate standards in performing the duties of the office. Besides carrying out duties in a “courteous and professional manner,” this canon also details that a court employee “shall not publicly comment on the merits of any pending action and should require similar restraint by the court employee’s subordinates. This proscription does not extend to public statements made in the course of official duties or when explaining court procedures.”Additionally, “no court employee shall alter, falsify, destroy, mutilate, backdate or fail to make required entries on any records within the employee’s control.”And court employees shall not “discriminate against or engage in bias or prejudice against another person based upon race, physical or mental disability, ethnicity, religion, national origin, gender, age, socioeconomic status, sexual orientation, or political affiliation in the conduct of service to the court.”This canon also stresses that “no court employee shall provide legal advice or recommend the names of private attorneys, when acting in the capacity of a court employee.” • Canon 4: No court employee shall disclose confidential information acquired in the course of employment. This canon also requires that if a court employee has knowledge that another court employee has violated this rule to “take appropriate action. No employee shall be disciplined for disclosing such a violation to an appropriate authority.”It asks court administrators to educate court employees about what information is confidential.Court employees are also prohibited from engaging in ex parte communication “from litigants, witnesses or attorneys to judges, jury members or any other person in the decision-making process, except as provided by law or at the direction of the court.” • Canon 5: Every court employee shall avoid conflicts of interest in the performance of professional duties. This canon expects court employees to “regulate outside activities to minimize the risk of conflict with court-related duties. Generally, a conflict of interest exists when the court employee’s objective ability or independence of judgment in the performance of his or her job is impaired or may reasonably appear to be impaired.”In an anti-nepotism section of the canon, no employee may be supervised by a member of the employee’s immediate family, “nor shall there be any assignments as supervisor and subordinate between employees engaged in a dating relationship.”The committee recognized that this restriction may result in a qualified candidate being summarily rejected for a position or represent a hardship to smaller counties.“However, when balanced by the need for actions free of the taint of nepotism both in appearance and fact, this restriction is necessary.”Court employees who have the authority to enter into or approve contracts over $1,500 in the name of the court system must file financial disclosure statements with the chief judge (consistent with that which is required for disclosure under F.S. 112.3145). • Canon 6: A court employee’s professional position shall not be used for private gain. This section deals with the prohibition against soliciting or accepting freebies, whether they are “gifts, loans, gratuities, discounts, hospitality, services or favors directly or indirectly from attorneys, litigants or other persons known to do business with the court.”Additionally, “receiving fees, money or other compensation not provided for by law in return for public services is prohibited and may be punishable under the criminal code.”When is a gift OK?When it’s the holiday season, the giver is an attorney, and the food and refreshments are “of insignificant value.”Gifts may also be exchanged between court employees and judges during the holidays, birthday, or weddings.“The standard to keep in mind is that court employees should always conduct themselves in a manner that inspires public confidence in their role as court employees. After all, when serving the public interest, court employees must be free from the influence of improper outside interests. Also, gifts that cannot properly be accepted may be returned at government expense.”When it comes to outside employment, it is only permitted when the job does not involve “an entity that regularly appears in court or conducts business with the court system and it does not require the court employee to have frequent contact with attorneys who regularly appear in the court system.”If the court employee is also an attorney, he or she may provide “occasional uncompensated legal advice or document drafting for relatives or friends; or as part of pro bono services as recognized by The Florida Bar. However, the attorney may undertake litigation only if it is of a personal or family nature and so long as the litigation does not conflict with” other provisions of the canon.Judge Silverman acknowledged this prohibition may likely require a change in the Rules of Judicial Administration. • Canon 7: A court employee should refrain from inappropriate political activity. Keep the bumper stickers for candidates off your office door, and don’t use the office phone for drumming up support for your favorite judge running for re-election.This canon makes it clear that court employees should separate their political activities from employment duties.No political activity may be carried out during work hours or using government vehicles, equipment or on court property, and this includes telephones, fax machines, computers, network connectivity, copies and stamps.This also means court employees cannot display campaign literature, badges, stickers or endorsement signs on behalf of any party, committee, agency or candidate for political office.Nor may court employees solicit signatures for political candidacy or solicit campaign contributions on the job.Court employees may voluntarily participate in a judge’s or clerk’s campaign activities, including contributing money, but only through a judge’s or clerk’s fund-raising committee. Judges, elected clerks, and court administrators or supervisors may not require subordinate court employees to participate in political activities.“In general, court employees may participate in any political activities that do not give the impression that the judiciary itself endorses political candidates or supports political causes.”last_img

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