California Supreme Court committee issues guidelines on judges accepting gifts


Supreme Court of California main courthouse in San Francisco. (via Coolcaesar. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution)

The California Supreme Court Committee on Judicial Ethics Opinions released guidelines this week for judges who receive gifts, and noted even if gifts are of nominal value, they cannot be accepted in certain circumstances.

In the opinion, released Tuesday, the committee wrote that gifts cannot be accepted by judges if they are offered by a party who has or is likely to appear before the judge at any point in his or her career, or if they create a perception of influence, favor, or reasonable belief that the giver was anticipating an advantage.

“When determining if gifts are otherwise acceptable as ordinary social hospitality, judges should consider whether they are ordinary by community standards, consistent with social traditions, and hospitable in nature,” the opinion reads.

Instances when judges might be offered gifts include jurors bringing homemade food from them in court, local sports team or the judge’s alma mater gifting branded merchandise, or a law firm delivering pizza following along trial.

“As varied as the examples are, the items are similarly low in extrinsic dollar value but high in intrinsic social value,” the opinion reads.

Gifts may be accepted, however, if they do not violate the guidelines intended to keep judges impartial, are of little or nominal value, considered ordinary by community standards, and offered for social traditions or purposes, according to the opinion.

Hunter Schwarz covers the intersection of politics and pop culture for the Washington Post

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