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2022 California Rules of Court

Standard 10.20. Court's duty to prevent bias

(a) Statement of purpose

The California judicial branch is committed to ensuring the integrity and impartiality of the judicial system and to court interactions free of bias and the appearance of bias. Consistent with this commitment, each court should work within its community to improve dialogue and engagement with members of various cultures, backgrounds, and groups to learn, understand, and appreciate the unique qualities and needs of each group.

(Subd (a) amended effective January 1, 2022; previously amended effective January 1, 1994, January 1, 1998, and January 1, 2007.)

(b) Duty to ensure integrity and impartiality of the judicial system

Each court, its judicial officers, and its employees have the duty to ensure the integrity and impartiality of the judicial system.

(1)  Refrain from and prevent biased conduct

In all court interactions, each court, its judicial officers, and its employees should refrain from engaging in conduct and should take action to prevent others from engaging in conduct that exhibits bias, including but not limited to bias based on age, ancestry, color, ethnicity, gender, gender expression, gender identity, genetic information, marital status, medical condition, military or veteran status, national origin, physical or mental disability, political affiliation, race, religion, sex, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, and any other classification protected by federal or state law, including Government Code section 12940(a) and Code of Judicial Ethics, canon 3(B)(5), whether that bias is directed toward counsel, court staff, witnesses, parties, jurors, or any other person. The court, judicial officers, and court employees may consider such classifications only if necessary or relevant to the proper exercise of their adjudicatory or administrative functions.

(2)  Ensure fairness

Each judicial officer should ensure that courtroom interactions are conducted in a manner that is fair and impartial to all persons.

(3)  Ensure unbiased decisions

Each judicial officer should ensure that all orders, rulings, and decisions are based on the sound exercise of judicial discretion and the balancing of competing rights and interests and are not influenced by stereotypes or biases.

(Subd (b) adopted effective January 1, 2022.)

(c) Creation of local or regional committees on bias

To assist in providing court interactions free of bias and the appearance of bias, courts should collaborate with local bar associations to establish a local or regional committee. Trial courts may choose to form a regional committee. Appellate courts may choose to form separate or joint appellate court committees or join a trial court committee or regional committee formed by or composed of trial courts within the appellate courts' districts. Each committee should:

(1)  Be composed of representative members of the court community, including but not limited to judicial officers, lawyers, court administrators, and individuals who interact with the court and reflect and represent the diverse and various needs and viewpoints of court users;

(2)  Sponsor or support educational programs designed to eliminate unconscious and explicit biases within the court and legal communities. Education is critical to developing an awareness of the origins of bias and the impact of bias on individuals, culture, and society. Education should include:

(A)  Information as to bias based on the protected classifications listed in (b)(1);

(B)  Information regarding how unconscious and explicit biases based on these classifications develop, how to recognize unconscious and explicit biases, and how to address and eliminate unconscious and explicit biases; and

(C)  Other topics on bias relevant to the local community informed by the committee's independent assessment of the unique educational needs in that community.

(3)  Engage in regular outreach to the local community to learn about issues of importance to court users. Specifically, committee members should be encouraged to:

(A)  Inform local community groups regarding the committee's activities; and

(B)  Seek information from the local community regarding concerns as to bias in court interactions and how the court can address those concerns.

(Subd (c) amended and relettered effective Janaury 1, 2022; adopted as Subd (b) effective January 1, 1994; previously amended effective January 1, 1998, and January 1, 2007.)

(d) Information regarding complaint procedures

Each court should effectively communicate to its court users regarding existing procedures to submit complaints of bias in court interactions based on protected classifications, as listed in (b)(1). This should include information regarding how to submit complaints about court employees directly to the court and how to submit complaints about judicial officers either directly to the court or to the Commission on Judicial Performance. Possible methods of communication include providing this information on the court website, including the information in the court's local rules, displaying the information in courthouses, or any other similar method to ensure that courts are providing complaint procedure information to court users in a meaningful and accessible manner.

(Subd (d) amended and relettered effective January 1, 2022; adopted as Subd (c) effective January 1, 1994; previously amended effective January 1, 2007.)

(e) Application of local rules

The existence of the local committee, and its purpose should be memorialized in the applicable local rules of court.

(Subd (e) amended and relettered effective January 1, 2022; adopted as Subd (d) effective January 1, 1994; previously amended effective January 1, 2007.)

(f) Implementation

All courts should implement the recommendations of this standard as soon as possible.

(Subd (f) adopted effective January 1, 2022.)

Standard 10.20 amended effective January 1, 2022; adopted as sec. 1 effective January 1, 1987; previously amended effective January 1, 1994, and January 1, 1998; amended and renumbered effective January 1, 2007.

Advisory Committee Comment

The judicial officer duties stated in this subdivision are consistent with the California Code of Judicial Ethics, which addresses judicial officer responsibilities for performing judicial duties without bias, prejudice, or harassment (canon 3(B)(5)); for requiring attorneys in proceedings before the judicial officer to refrain from manifesting bias, prejudice, or harassment (canon 3(B)(6)); for discharging judicial administrative duties without bias or prejudice (canon 3(C)(1)); and for requiring staff and court personnel under the judicial officer's control to refrain from manifesting bias, prejudice, or harassment in the performance of their duties (canon 3(C)(3)).

An earlier version of this standard applied solely to judges and referred to "courtroom proceedings." "Judge" has been expanded to "judicial officers," which includes all judges as defined by California Rules of Court, rule 1.6, and all appellate and Supreme Court justices. The expanded phrase broadly covers any judge, justice, subordinate judicial officer, or temporary judge who might conduct a courtroom proceeding. Additionally, in subdivision (b)(1), "courtroom proceedings" has been changed to "court interactions" to expand the scope of proceedings and actions covered by this standard to include not only proceedings occurring in courtrooms but also interactions in other areas of the court, including in the clerk's office and at public counters.

Subdivision (d). An earlier version of this standard encouraged local bias committees to create informal complaint procedures for court users and members of the public to submit complaints regarding bias in court proceedings. The recommendation that local bias committees create informal complaint procedures has been eliminated in large part because of the many existing and updated avenues for making complaints regarding bias in court interactions, and to avoid creating conflicts between those procedures. For example, the authority and procedures for addressing complaints concerning judicial officers and subordinate judicial officers are outlined in rules 10.603 and 10.703 of the California Rules of Court and canon 3(D) of the California Code of Judicial Ethics. Similarly, rules 10.351 and 10.610 of the California Rules of Court, as well as Government Code section 71650 et seq., include authority and complaint resolution processes for addressing complaints against court employees. In practice, courts have developed robust procedures for addressing such complaints against judicial officers, subordinate judicial officers, and court employees, and the Commission on Judicial Performance provides detailed information on its website at cjp.ca.gov about how to file complaints and the procedures it employs for addressing such complaints.

In addition to the concerns regarding duplicative and conflicting complaint procedures, the recommendation that local bias committees adopt informal complaint procedures created additional concerns. For example, the earlier version of the standard envisioned using informal complaint procedures to resolve incidents that do not warrant formal discipline; however, it is often difficult to determine at the outset if a complaint is disciplinary in nature or can be ameliorated by education. Other due process concerns were raised that local committees were not necessarily resourced to make these determinations, and may not have had the expertise to investigate and resolve these complaints. Additional concerns were raised that having local committees oversee complaints against judicial officers and court employees created privacy and confidentiality concerns for both complainants and respondents because any inquiry by a local bias committee would be known and resolved by a group of local attorneys, judicial officers, and other committee members who would necessarily need to know the particular facts of the complaint, thereby significantly expanding the number of local individuals who were aware of the existence or details of the complaint. Ethical concerns were also raised for judicial officers who were members of the local bias committees because judicial officers who become aware of complaints against other judicial officers may have ethical obligations that require them to take appropriate corrective action, which may include reporting the information to the presiding judge or justice or the Commission on Judicial Performance. Finally, there were concerns that local bias committee complaint procedures would conflict with existing personnel policies and labor relations agreements if the local committee attempted to resolve complaints against court employees outside of the procedures outlined in these policy documents.

This standard does not prevent courts and local or regional bias committees from choosing to create informal complaint resolution procedures. Some local bias committees have established effective informal complaint resolution procedures for resolving complaints against judicial officers, and each local court and local or regional bias committee should work to find solutions that work best for that local community. If so, they should fully consider how best to address the above concerns. Because of the specific labor and employment laws governing courts and court employees, including the direction provided in rule 10.351 of the California Rules of Court, and the fact that courts already have personnel policies and memorandums of understanding that govern complaints against court employees, having local or regional bias committees resolve complaints against court employees is not recommended.

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