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Delaware Docket Newsletter
Summer 2014

Nationally Renowned Judicial Ethics Expert Presents at Family Court

On April 10, 2014, the judges and commissioners of Family Court welcomed for a day-long training nationally-renowned judicial ethics expert Cynthia Gray. Since October 1990, Ms. Gray has been director of the American Judicature Society's Center for Judicial Ethics, a national clearinghouse for information about judicial ethics and discipline. Ms. Gray writes and edits the Judicial Conduct Reporter, frequently presents at judicial education conferences, and writes extensively on judicial ethics topics. Among her writings are: How Judicial Conduct Commissions Work, Just. Sys. J. (2007); The Line Between Legal Error and Judicial Misconduct: Balancing Judicial Independence and Accountability, Hofstra L. Rev. (Summer 2004); and Avoiding The Appearance of Impropriety: With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility, U. Ark. Little Rock L. Rev. (Fall 2005).

Given Family Court's commitment to maintaining the highest ethical standards in an ever-evolving technological world, one focus of the training concerned the increasing presence of social media in society and the lives of judges and commissioners. Questions that just a few years ago would not have been asked were thoughtfully considered. Specifically, issues such as whether "friending" an attorney creates an impression that the lawyer is in a position to influence the judge and when maintaining a blog is appropriate were analyzed. Ms. Gray also discussed the ethical issues surrounding several instances throughout the country in which judges and commissioners utilized technology (Facebook, websites, Google) to independently research parties, witnesses, or experts who were before the court.

As an issue that the public frequently raises, the judges and commissioners also engaged in a thorough review of the judicial disqualification landscape. In so doing, they looked at case law, statutes, and advisory opinions, both inside and outside of Delaware, to understand the developing law concerning when a judge's impartiality might reasonably be questioned.

In wrapping up the day, the judges and commissioners reviewed recent, noteworthy opinions and considered how the fact-finder balanced judicial accountability and judicial independence.