SCR 60 Note   The Code of Judicial Conduct is not intended as an exhaustive guide for the conduct of judges. They should also be governed in their judicial and personal conduct by general ethical standards. The Code is intended, however, to state basic standards which should govern the conduct of all judges and to provide guidance to assist judges in establishing and maintaining high standards of judicial and personal conduct.
60.01 SCR 60.01 Definitions. In this chapter:
60.01(1) (1) “Appropriate authority" means the chief judge of an offending judge's district, the director of state courts, the judicial commission, and the office of lawyer regulation.
60.01(2) (2) “Candidate" means a person seeking selection for or retention of a judicial office by means of election or appointment who makes a public announcement of candidacy, declares or files as a candidate with the election or appointment authority, or authorizes solicitation or acceptance of contributions or support.
60.01(3) (3) “Court personnel" means staff, court officials and others subject to the judge's direction and control, including judicial assistants, reporters, law clerks, and bailiffs. “Court personnel" does not include the lawyers in a judicial proceeding.
60.01(4) (4) “De minimis" means an insignificant interest that does not raise reasonable question as to a judge's impartiality or use of the prestige of the office.
60.01(5) (5) “Economic interest" means ownership of a more than de minimis legal or equitable interest, or a relationship as officer, director, advisor or other active participant in the affairs of a party, except that none of the following is an economic interest:
60.01(5)(a) (a) Ownership of an interest in a mutual or common investment fund that holds securities, unless the judge participates in the management of the fund or unless a proceeding pending or impending before the judge could substantially affect the value of the interest.
60.01(5)(b) (b) Service by a judge as an officer, director, advisor or other active participant in an educational, religious, charitable, fraternal or civic organization, or service by a judge's spouse or child as an officer, director, advisor or other active participant in any organization.
60.01(5)(c) (c) A deposit in a financial institution, the proprietary interest of a policyholder in a mutual insurance company, of a depositor in a mutual savings association or of a member in a credit union, or a similar proprietary interest, unless a proceeding pending or impending before the judge could substantially affect the value of the interest.
60.01(5)(d) (d) Ownership of government securities, unless a proceeding pending or impending before the judge could substantially affect the value of the securities.
60.01(6) (6) “Fiduciary" means a personal representative, trustee, attorney-in-fact, conservator or guardian.
60.01(7) (7) “Gift" means the payment or receipt of anything of value without valuable consideration.
60.01(7m) (7m) “Impartiality" means the absence of bias or prejudice in favor of, or against, particular parties, or classes of parties, as well as maintaining an open mind in considering issues that may come before the judge.
60.01(8) (8) “Judge" means a justice of the supreme court, a judge of the court of appeals, a judge of the circuit court, a reserve judge, a municipal judge, a court commissioner, and anyone, whether or not a lawyer, who is an officer of the judicial system and who performs judicial functions.
60.01(8m) (8m) “Judge-elect" means a person who has been elected or appointed to judicial office but has not yet taken office.
60.01(9) (9) “Knowingly" or “knowledge" means actual knowledge of the fact in question, which may be inferred from the circumstances.
60.01(10) (10) “Law" means court rules, statutes, constitutional provisions and legal conclusions in published court decisions.
60.01(11) (11) “Member of the judge's family" means the judge's spouse, child, grandchild, parent, grandparent and any other relative or person with whom the judge maintains a close familial relationship.
60.01(12) (12) “Member of the judge's family residing in the judge's household" means a relative of the judge by blood or marriage or a person treated by the judge as a member of the judge's family who resides in the judge's household.
60.01(13) (13) “Nonpublic information" means information that, by law, is not available to the public, including information that is sealed by statute or court order, impounded or communicated in camera, offered in grand jury proceedings or contained in presentencing reports, dependency case reports or psychiatric reports.
60.01(14) (14) “Part-time municipal judge" or “part-time court commissioner" means a judge or court commissioner who serves repeatedly on a part-time basis by election or under a continuing appointment.
60.01(15) (15) “Require" means the exercise of reasonable direction and control over the conduct of those persons subject to the directions and control.
60.01(16) (16) “Third degree of kinship" means a person who is related as a great-grandparent, grandparent, parent, uncle, aunt, brother, sister, child, grandchild, great-grandchild, nephew or niece.
SCR 60.01 History History: Sup. Ct. Order No. 95–05, 202 Wis. 2d xvii (1997); Sup. Ct. Order No. 01-12, 2001 WI 120, 247 Wis. 2d xiii; Sup. Ct. Order No. 00-07, 2004 WI 134, 274 Wis. 2d xvii.
60.02 SCR 60.02 A judge shall uphold the integrity and independence of the judiciary. An independent and honorable judiciary is indispensable to justice in our society. A judge should participate in establishing, maintaining and enforcing high standards of conduct and shall personally observe those standards so that the integrity and independence of the judiciary will be preserved. This chapter applies to every aspect of judicial behavior except purely legal decisions. Legal decisions made in the course of judicial duty on the record are subject solely to judicial review.
SCR 60.02 Note Comment: Deference to the judgments and rulings of courts depends upon public confidence in the integrity and independence of the judges. The integrity and independence of judges depend in turn upon their acting without fear or favor. Although judges should be independent, they must comply with the law, including the provisions of this chapter. Public confidence in the impartiality of the judiciary is maintained by the adherence of each judge to this responsibility. Conversely, violation of this chapter diminishes public confidence in the judiciary and thereby does injury to the system of government under law.
SCR 60.02 Annotation The role of the judicial conduct organization like the Wisconsin Judicial Commission is not that of an appellate court. Wis. Admin. Code Sec. JC 3.06 (May 1979) states as follows: “Commission not to act as appellate court. The commission may not function as an appellate court to review the decisions of a court or judge or to exercise superintending or administrative control over determinations of courts or judges." It is important to remember this concept as one interprets this chapter, particularly in light of the practice of some groups or individuals to encourage dissatisfied litigants to file simultaneous appeals and judicial conduct complaints.
SCR 60.02 History History: Sup. Ct. Order No. 95–05, 202 Wis. 2d xvii (1997), modified 210 Wis. 2d xvii (1998).
60.03 SCR 60.03 A judge shall avoid impropriety and the appearance of impropriety in all of the judge's activities.
60.03(1)(1) A judge shall respect and comply with the law and shall act at all times in a manner that promotes public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary.
SCR 60.03 Note Comment: Public confidence in the judiciary is eroded by irresponsible or improper conduct of judges. A judge must avoid all impropriety and appearance of impropriety. A judge must expect to be the subject of constant public scrutiny. A judge must therefore accept restrictions on the judge's conduct that might be viewed as burdensome by the ordinary citizen and should do so freely and willingly.
SCR 60.03 Annotation The prohibition against behaving with impropriety or the appearance of impropriety applies to both the professional and personal conduct of a judge. Because it is not practicable to list all prohibited acts, the proscription is necessarily cast in general terms that extend to conduct by judges that is harmful although not specifically mentioned in the chapter. Actual improprieties under this standard include violations of law, court rules or other specific provisions of this chapter. The test for appearance of impropriety is whether the conduct would create in reasonable minds a perception that the judge's ability to carry out judicial responsibilities with integrity, impartiality and competence is impaired.
SCR 60.03 Annotation Restrictions on the personal conduct of judges cannot, however, be so onerous as to deprive them of fundamental freedoms enjoyed by other citizens. Care must be taken to achieve a balance between the need to maintain the integrity and dignity of the judiciary and the right of judges to conduct their personal lives in accordance with the dictates of their individual consciences.
SCR 60.03 Annotation In striking this balance the following factors should be considered:
SCR 60.03 Annotation (a) the degree to which the personal conduct is public or private;
SCR 60.03 Annotation (b) the degree to which the personal conduct is a protected individual right;
SCR 60.03 Annotation (c) the potential for the personal conduct to directly harm or offend others;
SCR 60.03 Annotation (d) the degree to which the personal conduct is indicative of bias or prejudice on the part of the judge;
SCR 60.03 Annotation (e) the degree to which the personal conduct is indicative of the judge's lack of respect for the public or the judicial/legal system.
SCR 60.03 Note See also Comment to sub. (3).
60.03(2) (2) A judge may not allow family, social, political or other relationships to influence the judge's judicial conduct or judgment. A judge may not lend the prestige of judicial office to advance the private interests of the judge or of others or convey or permit others to convey the impression that they are in a special position to influence the judge. A judge may not testify voluntarily as a character witness.
SCR 60.03 Note Comment: Maintaining the prestige of judicial office is essential to a system of government in which the judiciary functions independently of the executive and legislative branches. Respect for the judicial office facilitates the orderly conduct of legitimate judicial functions. Judges should distinguish between proper and improper use of the prestige of office in all of their activities. For example, it would be improper for a judge to allude to his or her judgeship to gain a personal advantage such as deferential treatment when stopped by a police officer for a traffic offense. Similarly, judicial letterhead must not be used for conducting a judge's personal business.
SCR 60.03 Annotation A judge must avoid lending the prestige of judicial office for the advancement of the private interests of others. For example, a judge must not use the judge's judicial position to gain advantage in a civil suit involving a member of the judge's family. As to the acceptance of awards, see SCR 60.05 (4) (e) 1.
SCR 60.03 Annotation Although a judge should be sensitive to possible abuse of the prestige of office, a judge may, based on the judge's personal knowledge, serve as a reference or provide a letter of recommendation. Such a letter should not be written if the person who is the subject of the letter is or is likely to be a litigant engaged in a contested proceeding before the court. However, a judge must not initiate the communication of information to a sentencing judge or a probation or corrections officer but may provide to such persons information for the record in response to a formal request.
SCR 60.03 Annotation Judges may participate in the process of judicial selection by cooperating with appointing authorities and screening committees seeking names for consideration and by responding to official inquiries concerning a person being considered for a judgeship.
SCR 60.03 Annotation A judge must not testify voluntarily as a character witness because to do so may lend the prestige of the judicial office in support of the party for whom the judge testifies. Moreover, when a judge testifies as a witness, a lawyer who regularly appears before the judge may be placed in the awkward position of cross-examining the judge. A judge may, however, testify when properly summoned. Except in unusual circumstances where the demands of justice require, a judge should discourage a party from requiring the judge to testify as a character witness.
60.03(3) (3) A judge may not hold membership in any organization that practices invidious discrimination on the basis of race, gender, religion or national origin.
SCR 60.03 Note Comment: Membership of a judge in an organization that practices invidious discrimination gives rise to perceptions that the judge's impartiality is impaired. Whether an organization practices invidious discrimination is often a complex question to which judges should be sensitive. The answer cannot be determined from a mere examination of an organization's current membership rolls but rather depends on how the organization selects members and other relevant factors, such as that the organization is dedicated to the preservation of religious, ethnic or cultural values of legitimate common interest to its members or that it is in fact and effect an intimate, purely private organization whose membership limitations could not be constitutionally prohibited.
SCR 60.03 Annotation Whether an organization, club or group is “private" depends on a review of the following factors: 1) size; 2) purpose; 3) policies; 4) selectivity in membership; 5) congeniality; and 6) whether others are excluded from critical aspects of the relationship. An organization that is not “private" is generally said to discriminate invidiously if it arbitrarily excludes from membership on the basis of race, religion, sex or national origin persons who would otherwise be admitted to membership. See, New York State Club Ass'n. Inc. v. City of New York, 108 S. Ct. 2225, 101 L. Ed. 2d 1 (1988); Board of Directors of Rotary International v. Rotary Club of Duarte, 481 U.S. 537 (1987), 95 L. Ed. 2d 474; Roberts v. United States Jaycees, 468 U.S. 609 (1984). Organizations dedicated to the preservation of religious, fraternal, sororal, spiritual, charitable, civic or cultural values which do not stigmatize any excluded persons as inferior and therefore unworthy of membership are not considered to discriminate invidiously.
SCR 60.03 Annotation Public manifestation by a judge of the judge's knowing approval of invidious discrimination on any basis gives the appearance of impropriety and diminishes public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary.
SCR 60.03 Annotation When a judge has reason to believe that an organization to which the judge belongs engages in invidious discrimination that would preclude membership under sub. (3) or under SCR 60.03, the judge may, in lieu of resigning, make immediate efforts to have the organization discontinue its invidiously discriminatory practices but must suspend participation in any other activities of the organization. If the organization fails to discontinue its invidiously discriminatory practices as promptly as possible, the judge must resign from the organization.
SCR 60.03 History History: Sup. Ct. Order No. 95–05, 202 Wis. 2d xvii (1997).
SCR 60.03 Note LRB Note: A judge's threats against the chief judge in an attempt to pressure the chief judge to decide an administrative dispute on the basis of political considerations and family relationships, rather than the merits, were, in effect, attempts to induce the chief judge to violate sub. (2). Wisconsin Judicial Commission v. Crawford, 2001 WI 96, 245 Wis. 2d 373, 629 N.W.2d 1.
60.04 SCR 60.04 A judge shall perform the duties of judicial office impartially and diligently. The judicial duties of a judge take precedence over all the judge's other activities. The judge's judicial duties include all the duties of the judge's office prescribed by law.
60.04(1) (1) In the performance of the duties under this section, the following apply to adjudicative responsibilities:
60.04(1)(a) (a) A judge shall hear and decide matters assigned to the judge, except those in which recusal is required under sub. (4) or disqualification is required under section 757.19 of the statutes and except when judge substitution is requested and granted.
60.04(1)(b) (b) A judge shall be faithful to the law and maintain professional competence in it. A judge may not be swayed by partisan interests, public clamor or fear of criticism.
60.04(1)(c) (c) A judge shall require order and decorum in proceedings before the judge.
60.04(1)(d) (d) A judge shall be patient, dignified and courteous to litigants, jurors, witnesses, lawyers and others with whom the judge deals in an official capacity and shall require similar conduct of lawyers, staff, court officials and others subject to the judge's direction and control. During trials and hearings, a judge shall act so that the judge's attitude, manner or tone toward counsel or witnesses does not prevent the proper presentation of the cause or the ascertainment of the truth. A judge may properly intervene if the judge considers it necessary to clarify a point or expedite the proceedings.
SCR 60.04 Note Comment: The duty to hear all proceedings fairly and with patience is not inconsistent with the duty to dispose promptly of the business of the court. Judges can be efficient and businesslike while being patient and deliberate.
SCR 60.04 Annotation In respect to sub. (c), by order of June 4, 1996, the Supreme Court adopted Standards of Courtesy and Decorum for the Courts of Wisconsin, chapter 62 of the Supreme Court Rules.
60.04(1)(e) (e) A judge shall perform judicial duties without bias or prejudice. A judge may not, in the performance of judicial duties, by words or conduct, manifest bias or prejudice, including bias or prejudice based upon race, gender, religion, national origin, disability, age, sexual orientation or socioeconomic status, and may not knowingly permit staff, court officials and others subject to the judge's direction and control to do so.
SCR 60.04 Note Comment: A judge must refrain from speech, gestures or other conduct that could reasonably be perceived as sexual harassment and must require the same standard of conduct of others subject to the judge's direction and control.
SCR 60.04 Annotation A judge must perform judicial duties impartially and fairly. A judge who manifests bias on any basis in a proceeding impairs the fairness of the proceeding and brings the judiciary into disrepute. Facial expression and body language, in addition to oral communication, can give to parties or lawyers in the proceedings, jurors, the media and others an appearance of judicial bias. A judge must be alert to avoid behavior that may be perceived as prejudicial.
60.04(1)(f) (f) A judge shall require lawyers in proceedings before the judge to refrain from manifesting, by words or conduct, bias or prejudice based upon race, gender, religion, national origin, disability, age, sexual orientation or socioeconomic status against parties, witnesses, counsel or others. This subsection does not preclude legitimate advocacy when race, gender, religion, national origin, disability, age, sexual orientation or socioeconomic status or other similar factors are issues in the proceeding.
60.04(1)(g) (g) A judge may not initiate, permit, engage in or consider ex parte communications concerning a pending or impending action or proceeding except that:
60.04(1)(g)1. 1. A judge may initiate, permit, engage in or consider ex parte communications for scheduling, administrative purposes or emergencies that do not deal with substantive matters or issues on the merits if all of the following conditions are met:
60.04(1)(g)1.a. a. The judge reasonably believes that no party will gain a procedural or tactical advantage as a result of the ex parte communication.
60.04(1)(g)1.b. b. When the ex parte communication may affect the substance of the action or proceeding, the judge promptly notifies all of the other parties of the substance of the ex parte communication and allows each party an opportunity to respond.
60.04(1)(g)2. 2. A judge may obtain the advice of a disinterested expert on the law applicable to a proceeding before the judge if the judge gives notice to the parties of the person consulted and the substance of the advice and affords the parties reasonable opportunity to respond.
60.04(1)(g)3. 3. A judge may consult with other judges or with court personnel whose function is to aid the judge in carrying out the judge's adjudicative responsibilities.
60.04(1)(g)4. 4. A judge may, with the consent of the parties, confer separately with the parties and their lawyers in an effort to settle matters pending before the judge.
60.04(1)(g)5. 5. A judge may initiate, permit, engage in or consider ex parte communications when expressly authorized by law.
60.04(1)(g)6. 6. A judge may initiate, permit, engage in or consider ex parte communications knowingly waived by a participant when the judge is assigned to a therapeutic, treatment or problem-solving docket in which the judge must assume a more interactive role with participants, treatment providers, probation officers, social workers, prosecutors, defense counsel, and others.
SCR 60.04 Note Comment: The proscription against communications concerning a proceeding includes communications from lawyers, law teachers, and other persons who are not participants in the proceeding, except to the limited extent permitted.
SCR 60.04 Annotation To the extent reasonably possible, all parties or their lawyers shall be included in communications with a judge.
SCR 60.04 Annotation Whenever presence of a party or notice to a party is required by SCR 60.04 (1) (g), it is the party's lawyer, or if the party is unrepresented, the party, who is to be present or to whom notice is to be given.
SCR 60.04 Annotation An appropriate and often desirable procedure for a court to obtain the advice of a disinterested expert on legal issues is to invite the expert to file a brief amicus curiae.
SCR 60.04 Annotation Certain ex parte communication is approved by SCR 60.04 (1) (g) to facilitate scheduling and other administrative purposes and to accommodate emergencies. In general, however, a judge must discourage ex parte communication and allow it only if all the criteria stated in SCR 60.04 (1) (g) are clearly met. A judge must disclose to all parties all ex parte communications described in SCR 60.04 (1) (g) 1. and 2. regarding a proceeding pending or impending before the judge.
SCR 60.04 Annotation A judge must not independently investigate facts in a case and must consider only the evidence presented.
SCR 60.04 Annotation A judge may request a party to submit proposed findings of fact and conclusions of law, so long as the other parties are apprised of the request and are given an opportunity to respond to the proposed findings and conclusions.
SCR 60.04 Annotation A judge should not accept trial briefs that are not exchanged with adversary parties unless all parties agree otherwise in advance of submission of the briefs.
SCR 60.04 Annotation A judge must make reasonable efforts, including the provision of appropriate supervision, to ensure that SCR 60.04 (1) (g) is not violated through law clerks or other personnel on the judge's staff.
SCR 60.04 Annotation If communication between the trial judge and the appellate court with respect to a proceeding is permitted, a copy of any written communication or the substance of any oral communication should be provided to all parties.
SCR 60.04 Annotation The prohibition of a lawyer's ex parte communication with a judge and others is set forth in SCR 20:3.5.
60.04(1)(h) (h) A judge shall dispose of all judicial matters promptly and efficiently.
SCR 60.04 Note Comment: In disposing of matters promptly and efficiently, a judge must demonstrate due regard for the rights of the parties to be heard and to have issues resolved without unnecessary cost or delay. Containing costs while preserving fundamental rights of parties also protects the interests of witnesses and the general public. A judge should monitor and supervise cases so as to reduce or eliminate dilatory practices, avoidable delays and unnecessary costs. A judge should encourage and seek to facilitate settlement, but parties should not feel coerced into surrendering the right to have their controversy resolved by the courts.
SCR 60.04 Annotation Prompt disposition of the court's business requires a judge to devote adequate time to judicial duties, to be punctual in attending court and expeditious in determining matters under submission, and to insist that court officials, litigants and their lawyers cooperate with the judge to that end.
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Wisconsin Supreme Court Rules updated by the Legislative Reference Bureau. Current through all Supreme Court Orders filed prior to August 1, 2019. Report errors at 608.504.5801 or lrb.legal@legis.wisconsin.gov.