Judicial Silence

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Court cases are in the news all the time. And you might think - --who better to talk about a case than the judge involved? But they won't. Judges need to stay neutral.

Judges are barred by the canons of ethics from commenting publicly on any case that currently is in the court system, even on appeal-we can't comment even on a matter that might get into court. Can't do it. If we do, we get punished. We could get kicked off the court.

So, why the prohibition?

First, remember that judges do write opinions. They issue orders, often with an explanation of the order. Judges explain their reasons as part of the court process.

But any other public comment-about one's own case, or about some other case, even a case somewhere else in the country-is off limits.


There's a serious problem talking about a judge's own case. The judge might appear not to be neutral. He might talk about an issue that hasn't come up yet, and look as if he's prejudged it. Maybe the judge will be seen to have a personal interest in defending himself to the public-- whereas we expect judges to have no such personal interest. We don't want judges doing things to try to take the public limelight. A judge's rulings will stand, or fall, on their own merit. Judges don't have a horse in the race.

How about comments about other cases? Those comments might be seen as an attempt to influence the other judge. They could be seen as a bias in favor of a party. The people involved in that other case might see it as mighty unfair to have a judge-a judge, of all people-weigh in and talk about their case.

So judges won't talk about any case, or any matter that might become a case. Judges have to keep silent:- to preserve their neutrality, their independence- and the public's confidence in the integrity of the courts.

With a Perspective, I'm Curtis Karnow.

Curtis Karnow is a judge of the Superior Court of California. His views are his own and not those of any judicial body.