American Bar Association calls for judicial ethics, end to bigotry

The American Bar Association’s House of Delegates approved first-time policies endorsing “reasonable and appropriate” federal government efforts aimed at combating money laundering as well as a code of judicial ethics binding on justices of the U.S. Supreme Court.

Also, the 591-member policy-making House, known as the HOD, adopted a proposal that urges federal, state, local, territorial, and tribal governments to remove racial and ethnic bias symbols of the Confederate States of America and depictions of Confederate leaders.

The resolution passed unopposed.

“Keeping these relics in place underscores the systemic racial bias in this country that had existed since before the Civil War was lost and has no place in a modern, civilized society,” said rom Tafeni English-Relf, director of the Civil Rights Memorial Center, on behalf of the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC). “The psychological effects of this imagery on judges, attorneys, litigants, jurors, witnesses and pedestrians are real and documented by research.”

Resolution 400, which was a late proposal, urges the Supreme Court to adopt a code of judicial ethics binding on its justices that is comparable to the code of conduct for other U.S. judges adopted by the Judicial Conference of the United States.

Advocates of the change say the absence of a clearly articulated, binding code of ethics for members of the highest court in the country imperils the legitimacy of the court as well as the judicial system.

“It’s high time to set (a code of conduct),” said Stephen Saltzburg, a law professor and former U.S. Justice Department official. “The Supreme Court should have a code of ethics. Exclamation point. The end.”

The new anti-money laundering policy seeks to balance the longstanding attorney-client privilege with the demands of governmental entities seeking access to information on criminal activities, such as money laundering, terrorism financing, human trafficking and other corrupt conduct. It follows a lengthy review by the ABA Working Group on Beneficial Ownership, and recognizes efforts by Congress, which has passed legislation to combat criminal activity. A recent law, for example, requires certain business entities to file, in the absence of an exemption, information on their beneficial owners with the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network of the U.S. Department of Treasury.

A beneficial owner is a person who enjoys the benefits of ownership although an asset’s title is listed in another name. Under federal financial regulations, a beneficial owner is anyone with more than 25% ownership of a legal entity, or anyone who controls the legal entity.

The new policy urges that any governmental disclosure requirements protect constitutional rights and confidentiality interests, and not conflict with the ethical duties, professional conduct requirements and regulations imposed on the legal profession by other governmental entities. It also says these requirements should “not undermine the applicable rules of professional conduct to which lawyers are subject.”

In rejecting the legal education proposal, the delegates expressed their concerns with a proposed change in law school student admissions policies, which would have revised current accreditation Standards 501 (Admissions) and 503 (Admission Test). The latter requires a law school to have a test score for most applicants, and the Law School Admission Test (LSAT) and Graduate Record Examinations (GRE) are now recognized as “valid and reliable” tests under this standard.

The change now goes back to the council, which serves as the independent accrediting arm for the 196 ABA-approved law schools. Under ABA rules and procedures, the HOD can review a proposed change to the standards twice and concur, reject or make recommendations, but final decisions rest with council, which next meets Feb. 17.

The HOD also approved several policies related to criminal justice matters. Resolution 501 adopts the Ten Principles to Achieve Gender Equity in the Criminal Legal Profession, intended to advance the goal of gender equity among employers, institutions and people who are part of the criminal legal profession. The principles, for instance, put emphasis on creating culture change by dismantling longstanding barriers in various phases of the criminal justice field, including hiring, retention and promotion of women. Another resolution urges creation of policies and practices to improve the treatment of persons living with dementia who are involved in the criminal justice system.

In the medical area, policies were adopted that oppose governmental efforts that do the following: attempt to impose medical or surgical intervention on minors with intersex traits (also known as variations in sex characteristics) without the minor’s informed consent or assent (511); unreasonably interfere with a person’s abilities to direct their own health care, including their right to refuse unwanted medical treatment and their legally authorized substitute decisionmakers’ rights to refuse medical treatment on their behalf (512); and restrict the right of any individual to travel interstate to access medical care (513).

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