On Monday, May 6, 2024, Bloomberg Law published an insightful article discussing the recent scrutiny bankruptcy judges have faced over their attendance at social events with bankruptcy practitioners.

The article notes how the resignation of former US Bankruptcy Judge David Jones and scrutiny of a popular two-judge panel in Houston prompted questions about whether judges should be attending such social gatherings. However, the author Kenneth Rosen believes that socialization and networking between judges and attorneys is acceptable and important as long as proper ethical standards are followed.

Rosen, a long time bankruptcy practitioner, explains there is an unwritten rule that small talk about casual topics like sports or the weather is fine between judges and lawyers at social events, but any discussion of pending cases is clearly off limits. Well-respected attorneys know not to discuss active matters with judges in social settings. The author’s experience matches this, as judges swiftly exit if cases come up and may avoid that lawyer going forward.

While some level of social interaction is unavoidable given the specialized yet tight-knit nature of the bankruptcy world, Rosen acknowledges the challenge of maintaining impartiality and avoiding impropriety. However, he argues outright criticism of judges who support good causes through event attendance goes too far. The piece also provides context that many bankruptcy judges were themselves former practitioners, so some degree of familiarity is to be expected.

To provide guidance, Rosen outlines the relevant parts of the Code of Judicial Conduct, such as the standards requiring impartiality and prohibiting substantive case discussions outside of court. However, it also allows for judicious extrajudicial activity, as isolation would be counterproductive. The author believes judges can discern appropriate events to attend, such as those related to education, charitable causes, or traditions in the bankruptcy field.

In closing, Rosen asserts the key is for judges and attorneys to understand and adhere to the ethical rules regarding their conduct at social functions. If interactions remain respectfully informal, he argues the public should not interpret routine socialization negatively or view the bankruptcy judiciary as overly “clubby.” Overall, the article makes a fair argument that some networking bears merit while still maintaining strong guidelines.

 

 

Source: Bloomberg Law