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State Supreme Court committee issues advice on gift exchanges between judges and court staff

A state Supreme Court committee issued an expedited opinion providing guidance for judges who wish to exchange gifts with staff to celebrate holidays, birthdays, or other occasions.

In Expedited Opinion 2021-039, the Supreme Court Committee on Judicial Ethics Opinions (CJEO) observes that gift exchanges can foster good workplace morale, but cautions that staff cannot be pressured into exchanging gifts with the judge or each other.

The committee also advises judges to:

  • Treat all staff equally, to the extent reasonably possible, and not show bias or favoritism when giving or receiving gifts.
  • Consider the different backgrounds and traditions of their staff when deciding what kinds of gift exchanges would be appropriate.
  • Avoid potentially troublesome gifts, including gifts that are offensive, demeaning, inappropriate, or would be perceived as harassment.

“Giving and receiving gifts can be an important and meaningful way to develop good relationships between judges and court staff. The committee’s advice can help judges identify, consider and weigh a number of factors when exchanging gifts, so that a well-intentioned gesture does not end up running afoul of the ethical canons,” said committee member Judge George J. Abdallah, Jr.

About the Committee on Judicial Ethics Opinions (CJEO)
The Committee on Judicial Ethics Opinions is a 12-member advisory committee that includes appellate justices, trial court judges, a retired judge and a commissioner. The committee is appointed and authorized by the California Supreme Court, but its work is independent of the court, the Judicial Council, and all other entities. Its opinions are advisory and do not necessarily reflect the views of the California Supreme Court or any other entity.

CJEO issues formal, informal and expedited opinions on proper judicial conduct pursuant to the California Code of Judicial Ethics and other authorities. CJEO posts the opinions on the CJEO website for the benefit of the bench and the public.

This article was released by the California Courts – Judicial Branch of California.