Judicial Ethics

Lawyers often interact with judges and court staff, sometimes on a daily basis.  An awareness of the standards of conduct applicable to judges and court staff helps assure that a lawyer practices law in a competent and professionally responsible manner.  In some circumstances, a lawyer is required to comply with standards ordinarily applicable only to judges (for example, a lawyer serving as a temporary judge, referee or court-appointed arbitrator). This Judicial Ethics page is a collection of selected resources provided to promote a lawyer’s awareness and understanding of judicial ethics.

The provided resources are organized into five categories: general information; candidates for judicial office; gifts to judges; lawyers as temporary judicial officers; and social media. The resources include rules, statutes, advisory ethics opinions and court policy guides. This page is not intended to be a comprehensive collection of judicial ethics resources.

General Information

Candidates for Judicial Office

Lawyer candidates for judicial office are subject to Rule 1-700 of the Rules of Professional Conduct.  In part, this rule provides that a lawyer who is a candidate for judicial office in California shall comply with Canon 5 of the Code of Judicial Ethics.

An online educational course on Judicial Campaign Ethics by the Administrative Offices of the Courts, Center for Judicial Education and Research (CJER) is now available and is a mandatory requirement for all candidates for judicial office in California.

Canon 5(b)(3) of the Code of Judicial Ethics, in part, provides that the educational course must be completed: “[n]o earlier than one year before or no later than 60 days after either the filing of a declaration of intention by the candidate, the formation of a campaign committee, or the receipt of any campaign contribution, whichever is earliest. This requirement does not apply to judges who are unopposed for election and will not appear on the ballot. This requirement also does not apply to appellate justices who have not formed a campaign committee.” 

Selected resources include the following:

    Gifts to Judges

    Lawyers who give gifts to judges or court staff are subject to Rule 5-300 of the Rules of Professional Conduct.  Although Rule 5-300 may permit a member to give a gift to a judge or court staff in the limited the circumstances specified by the rule, the judge or staff person may be prohibited from accepting the gift. When considering the propriety of giving a gift, a lawyer should consult the provisions of the California Code of Judicial Ethics that restrict acceptance of gifts including, but not limited to, Canons 4D(5) and 4D(6). In addition, the California Supreme Court Committee on Judicial Ethics Opinions has issued Formal Opinion 2014-005 that provides guidance for judges who receive gifts, from individuals, including attorneys. Selected resources include the following:

    Lawyers as Temporary Judicial Officers

    A lawyer who serves as a temporary judge, referee, or court-appointed arbitrator is subject to Rule 1-710 of the Rules of Professional Conduct.  This rule incorporates by reference applicable provisions of the Code of Judicial Ethics and is intended to permit the State Bar to discipline lawyers who violate those provisions while acting in a judicial or quasi-judicial capacity pursuant to an order or appointment by a court.  Selected resources include the following:

    Social Media

    With the creation of the internet and social networking sites, both lawyers and judges may wonder whether it is ethically permissible for them to interact through social media networks, or simply create personal and/or professional profiles on such networks. Selected resources include the following: