Recent cases involving ethical scandals on the juvenile court bench have caught the interest of legal scholars, judges, practitioners, and the public. This article proposes a new theoretical framework for assessing these problems and articulates a series of vital ethical reforms.
Despite their distinct role in an atypical court, juvenile court judges are not subject to unique ethical standards. Most jurisdictions have adopted the ABA Model Code of Judicial Conduct as the ethical code guiding juvenile court judges. However, this Model Code, intended to apply to any person in a decision-making capacity, was created for a more conventional type of judging than is expected from a juvenile court judge. Because these standards do not address the exceptional roles and challenges facing juvenile court judges, the potential for ethical violations and injustice is significant. This article therefore recommends innovative textual revisions designed to provide much-needed ethical guidance to juvenile court judges in three critical areas: (1) ex parte communications; (2) competence; and (3) demeanor and decorum. The implementation of ethical guidelines tailored for this specialized court will remedy an existing flaw in the scheme of judicial ethics, while reinforcing judges’ abilities to determine the best outcomes for troubled youth.
24 Georgetown J. of Legal Ethics 97 (2011)