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Ethics Committee Issues Advice On Ex Parte Communications While Investigating Complaint Against Judge

The California Supreme Court Committee on Judicial Ethics Opinions issued a formal ethics opinion about the duties of a presiding judge or other judge with supervisory duties when investigating a complaint filed against a trial judge.
Nov 12, 2020

The California Supreme Court Committee on Judicial Ethics Opinions (CJEO) has issued a formal ethics opinion about the duties of a presiding judge or other judge with supervisory duties when investigating a complaint filed against a trial judge.

CJEO Formal Opinion 2020-015 provides guidance about the steps a supervising judge can take to investigate the allegations of a meritorious complaint.

It advises that, when there is no other way to properly investigate and respond to the complaint, a supervising judge may communicate with a trial court judge about the complaint, including referring to specific facts or circumstances related to the proceeding (an “ex parte communication”) as part of their oversight duty.

The opinion concludes that if disclosure is required, the supervising judge should only reveal to the trial judge what is necessary to investigate the allegations, remediate any harm, or improve the trial judge’s future conduct. If an ex parte communication is disclosed, the supervising judge remains responsible to take reasonable measures to ensure that the trial judge follows proper procedures that may be required by the disclosure of the ex parte communication to the trial judge.

“This opinion provides practical step-by-step advice for judges who are tasked with supervising their fellow bench officers on how to respond to complaints that contain ex parte communications, particularly those that might involve sensitive matters or arise from pending cases,” said committee member Judge Michael Garcia of the Sacramento Superior Court (Ret.).

The committee posted a draft opinion on its website for public comment on Aug. 28 and published comments it received by the Oct. 13 deadline.


About the Committee on Judicial Ethics Opinions (CJEO)
The Committee on Judicial Ethics Opinions is a 12-member advisory committee that includes appellate justices, trial court judges and commissioners. The committee is appointed and authorized by the California Supreme Court, but its work is independent of the court, the Judicial Council, and all other entities. Its opinions are advisory and do not necessarily reflect the views of the California Supreme Court or any other entity. 

The committee issues formal opinions, informal opinions, and oral advice on proper judicial conduct pursuant to the California Code of Judicial Ethics and other authorities. CJEO summarizes its oral advice and posts the summaries on the CJEO website for the benefit of the bench and the public.

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