« Ind. Law - "Ice Miller, Bingham firms reduce downtown office space" | Main | Courts - Nina Totenberg covers today's three SCOTUS decisions »

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Ind. Courts - Advisory Opinion: Courts Are Not Revenue Centers

Tucked away here on the Indiana Courts website is "an index of formal Advisory Opinions issued by the Commission, with links to the text of the opinions." It is arranged by the Cannons of the Code of Judicial Conduct. But the Advisory Opinions are numbered by what appears to be month and year. Very few have been issued in this century and none since 2007, until this one titled "Judicial pay arrangements", issued, it appears, "1/13". It is filed under Canon #1, "A Judge Shall Uphold and Promote the Independence, Integrity, and Impartiality of the Judiciary, and Shall Avoid Impropriety and the Appearance of Impropriety". The Advisory Opinion begins:

The Indiana Commission on Judicial Qualifications issues the following advisory opinion concerning the Code of Judicial Conduct. The views of the Commission are not necessarily those of a majority of the Indiana Supreme Court, the ultimate arbiter of judicial disciplinary issues. Compliance with an opinion of the Commission will be considered by it to be a good faith effort to comply with the Code of Judicial Conduct. The Commission may withdraw any opinion.
Who is on the Commission on Judicial Qualifications? Recall that it has the same membership as the Judicial Nominating Commission.

The issue before the Commission is:

At issue are salary payments to judges and judicial officers which may be made contingent on the number of cases filed with the court – i.e., being paid a token sum per traffic ticket filed with the court or per case disposed by the court. This opinion states the Commission’s position on the practical effect of these types of pay arrangements with regard to public perception of the judiciary.
Who is the subject of this Advisory Opinion?
Full-time judges are paid an annual salary, set by the Indiana General Assembly. However, city and town court judges, as well as some small claims court judges, may be paid pursuant to local ordinance or by vote of the city or county council. This pay may vary on an annual basis depending on the number of cases filed, tax revenue collected, and other measures.

Judges who are paid by some measure other than an annual fixed salary must carefully analyze both the source of the funding and the entity’s function within the court to avoid any appearance of conflict.1 Judges who are paid per case filed in their court, or who are paid by an organization that holds a frequent role in court proceedings (such as a police department or debt collection agency), are especially susceptible to allegations of conflict or bias. Such payments need not be based on the type or frequency of case dispositions in order to be problematic.

The two-page Addvisory Opinion concludes:
The Commission advises that judges subject to variable pay arrangements must be very cautious as to the source of these funds and to the source’s function (if any) within the court system. Judges and judicial officers should avoid compensation arrangements which have any basis in the number of cases filed or disposed by the court.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on June 20, 2013 03:15 PM
Posted to Indiana Courts