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Ethical Considerations for Judges and Attorneys in Drug Court

NCJ Number
Date Published
May 2001
68 pages
This booklet discusses the ethical considerations for judges and attorneys in drug courts based on a commentary on selected provisions of three American Bar Association (ABA) ethical codes: the Model Code of Judicial Conduct, the Model Rules of Professional Conduct, and the ABA Standards for Criminal Justice.
This study concluded generally that practitioners in drug courts need heightened ethical sensitivity in both the design of particular drug court programs and in daily practice, but the proper exercise of the roles of judge or lawyer in drug court need not conflict with the professionals' ethical obligations. Indeed, drug court practice has the potential to fulfill the highest aspirations of judicial and legal ethics. In applying the Model Code of Judicial Conduct to drug court judges, this study comments on the following five canons: A judge should uphold the integrity and independence of the judiciary; avoid impropriety and the appearance of impropriety in all of the judge's activities; perform the duties of a judicial officer impartially and diligently; conduct extra-judicial activities so as to minimize the risk of conflict with judicial obligations; and refrain from inappropriate political activity. The review of ethical considerations for lawyers who practice in drug courts examined whether this shift in lawyers' roles conflicted with the fundamental requirements of legal ethics as reflected in the ABA's Model Rules of Professional Conduct and further explicated in the ABA Standards for Criminal Justice. Of particular concern in this ethical analysis was the image of drug court lawyers as members of a team, which some critics view as a marked departure from traditional principles of ethical representation. The analysis notes that conflict between prosecutors and defense attorneys is not an essential ethical tenet of the attorney's role. Instead of starting with an assumption of conflict, prosecutors and defense counsel within drug courts begin their work expecting cooperation in achieving a common goal; i.e., reducing or preventing the defendant's further engagement with the criminal justice system by addressing the defendant's addiction to alcohol or other drugs. This shared goal underlies the team concept, but prosecutors and defense counsel maintain their distinctive roles within the team. The rules examined for lawyers pertain to competence, the scope of representation, diligence, communication, confidentiality of information, conflict of interest, client under a disability, advisor, meritorious claims and contentions, expediting litigation, candor toward the tribunal, fairness to opposing party and counsel, impartiality and decorum of the tribunal, trial publicity, special responsibilities of a prosecutor, truthfulness in statements to others, and communicating with a person represented by counsel.

Date Published: May 1, 2001