Federal judges must follow ethical rules called the Code of Conduct for United States Judges. For example, judges "should not hold membership in any organization that practices invidious discrimination on the basis of race, sex, religion or national origin." This makes sense as you certainly don't want any prejudice Judges deciding cases.
A complaint was recently filed against a federal bankruptcy judge for violating the code by belonging to a country club that has no women or blacks as full members. Apparently the club, located in a wealthy Nashville suburb, has a clear record of discrimination.
The code of conduct is clear. The club's track record is clear. Yet, the complaint was dismissed. The judicial council (made up of judges) decided that Judge Paine did not violate the code of conduct. The complaint was thrown out, and he was not disciplined.
The opinion of the judicial council focused on the fact that Judge Paine tried to diversify the club. These efforts, according the opinion, preclude any misconduct. I have no idea what these "efforts" were, but I'm not buying it. And even if we give him the benefit of the doubt, it still doesn't change the fact that he's a member of a club that discriminates.
This situation is ridiculous on so many levels. First, the discrimination by the club is just wrong. Second, being a judge and a member of this club clearly violates the code of conduct, as well as common sense. And third, I can't believe the judicial council completely let him off the hook. The reality is that most federal judicial complaints get thrown out and result in nothing. It's just that this one seems like such a clear violation.
The opinion wasn't unanimous; it was actually close (10-8). One of the dissenting judges pointed out that the code of conduct says that if the club doesn't end its discriminatory practices in two years, the judge must resign from the club. Apparently, Judge Paine had been trying to diversify the club for 15 years. So, I guess the two-year rule doesn't matter.
The bottom line is that he should have quit the club. Maybe he figured he didn't have to and assumed he wouldn't be disciplined because judges rarely are. Or maybe he just doesn't care because he's on the brink of retirement. Whatever his reason, his actions show little respect for his position and his profession. Beyond that, I'm apparently naive because I can't believe that these clubs even still exist much less attract lots of members.
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