California Official Court Reporters Association

Professional Practice : Code of Ethics

General Principles

  1. Impartiality
  2. Personal Integrity
  3. Professionalism
  4. Confidentiality
  5. Impropriety
  6. Appearance of Impropriety
  7. Prohibition Against Giving Legal Advice
  8. Duty to Service
  9. Competency
  10. Discrimination
  11. Harassment
  12. Technology

History

History of the California Code

A fair and independent court system is essential to the administration of justice in a democratic society. Proper conduct by court employees inspires public confidence and trust in the courts, and conveys the values of impartiality, equity, and fairness that bring integrity to the court’s work. To advance these values and to achieve justice we believe certain moral principles should govern all that we do. We therefore commit ourselves to:

Tenets of Ethics

Tenet One Provide impartial and evenhanded treatment of all persons;

Tenet Two Demonstrate the highest standards of personal integrity, honesty, and truthfulness in all our professional and personal dealings, avoiding the misuse of court time, equipment, supplies, or facilities for personal business;

Tenet Three Behave toward all persons with respect, courtesy, and responsiveness, acting always to promote public esteem in the court system;

Tenet Four Safeguard confidential information, both written and oral, unless disclosure is authorized by the court, refusing ever to use such information for personal advantage, and abstain at all times from public comment about pending court proceedings, except for strictly procedural matters;

Tenet Five Refrain from any actual impropriety, such as:

  • breaking the law
  • soliciting funds on the job
  • receiving gifts or favors related to court employment
  • accepting outside employment that conflicts with the court’s duties
  • recommending private legal service providers

Tenet Six Avoid any appearance of impropriety that might diminish the honor and dignity of the court;

Tenet Seven Serve the citizens of California by providing procedural assistance that is as helpful as possible without giving legal advice;

Tenet Eight Furnish accurate information as requested in a competent, cooperative, and timely manner;

Tenet Nine Improve personal work skills and performance through continuing professional education and development;

Tenet Ten Guard against and, when necessary, repudiate any act of discrimination or bias based on race, gender, age, religion, national origin, language, appearance, or sexual orientation;

Tenet Eleven Renounce any use of positional or personal power to harass another person sexually or in any other way based on that person’s religious beliefs, political affiliation, age, national origin, language, appearance, or other personal choices and characteristics; and

Tenet Twelve Protect the technological property of the court by preserving the confidentiality of electronically stored information and abstain from personal use of court computer systems and hardware.

A code of ethics cannot possibly anticipate every moral dilemma and ethical choice that may arise in the execution of one’s day-to-day professional responsibilities. Personal discretion in the interpretation of this Code of Ethics is both necessary and desirable. We who believe in it will continue to try to cultivate within ourselves the moral sensibilities that will inform and enliven our consciences and make us true servants of justice.

Guidelines for Tenets

The following guidelines clarify and embellish the tenets to which we subscribe:

Guideline for Tenet One. Impartiality

All persons coming to the court for assistance are entitled to fair and equitable treatment, regardless of their personal behavior or legal situation. Court employees must remember that they are often dealing with people who may be having one of the worst experiences of their lives. They must offer to angry, confused, uneducated, and sometimes deceitful customers the same level of competent and policy-neutral help that they provide to those who are pleasant and appreciative. While every court employee has the right to freedom of association, he or she does not have the right to take sides in a legal dispute, interject himself or herself into the legal decision-making process, or second-guess a judge’s ruling. The procedural integrity of the court must be protected at all times.

Guideline for Tenet Two. Personal Integrity

The fundamental attitudes and work habits of individual court employees are of vital importance. Honesty and truthfulness are paramount: employees should not, for example, knowingly make omissions on time cards or personnel records; backdate a court document for any reason unless ordered to do so by the court; falsely claim reimbursement for mileage or expenses; double dip from professional associations or other sources; lie about leaving work early for a doctor’s appointment; use the telephone, facsimile machine, or copying machine for personal purposes; or take supplies home for private use. Each individual employee should also contribute to the integrity of the entire court staff by striving to avoid factionalism and inspire mutual loyalty and trust.

Guideline for Tenet Three. Professionalism

Employment in the court system is a public trust engendered by the citizens’ confidence in the professional knowledge and competency and personal integrity of the officers and employees of the judicial branch. A professional knows every aspect of his or her job and can provide complete, understandable answers to the public’s questions. A professional presents a businesslike image of methodical and systematic efficiency and does not abuse the position of power that special knowledge affords. A professional never criticizes a co-worker in public nor denigrates a customer at the counter. A professional raises conflict resolution to an art form, always seeking to preserve the dignity of the individuals involved in a dispute, thereby preserving the dignity of the court. The word respect is never far from the professional’s mind.

Guideline for Tenet Four. Confidentiality

Sensitive information acquired by court employees in the course of discharging their official duties should never be revealed until it is made a matter of public record. Sometimes breaches of confidentiality do not involve intentional disclosure of official court records but are the result of innocent and casual remarks about pending or closed cases, about participants in litigation, or about juries, any of which could give attorneys, litigants, and reporters confidential information. Such remarks can seriously compromise a case or a person’s standing in the community. Court staff should discuss cases only for legitimate reasons, and should handle sensational or sensitive cases with great care.

Guideline for Tenet Five Impropriety

Improprieties can take many forms. Examples of improper behaviors include seeking any favor, soliciting any gift, or actually receiving any gift or the promise of one, whether it be money, services, travel, food, entertainment, or hospitality that could be construed as a reward for past or future services; improperly intervening to expedite administrative processes; or accepting private employment in conflict with the proper discharge of official court duties. In addition, any mode of conduct that casts doubt upon the integrity and impartiality of the legal system is forbidden. While court employees cannot regulate the conduct of others, they can conduct themselves in a manner that inspires public confidence in the role they play in the pursuit of justice. Proper conduct involves daily and scrupulous affirmation of moral principles and observance of all laws, rules, policies, and procedures.

Guideline for Tenet Six. Appearance of Impropriety

Court employees are expected to refrain from engaging not only in improper behavior, but also in behavior that others might perceive to be improper. Any activity that gives the impression that court employees can be improperly influenced in the performance of their official duties is prohibited. Any activity that gives the impression that court employees can be improperly influenced in the performance of their official duties is prohibited. A court employee should not, for example, seek or provide special consideration regarding traffic citations or parking violations; openly discuss the merits of cases pending before the court; or be overly solicitous to litigants or counsel which could give the appearance of preferential treatment. To gauge the propriety of an action, consider how it would be reported in tomorrow’s newspaper. Bear in mind that court employees are required to live up to a higher standard of ethical behavior than the general public.

Guideline for Tenet Seven. Prohibition Against Giving Legal Advice

Given the experience and visibility of court employees, it is natural for those who deal with the court, including attorneys and litigants as well as the general public, to ask questions such as: “Should I fight this?” “How do I fight this?” “To whom should I go for legal assistance?” “What does the law say?” Court employees can and should patiently explain how to file forms and pay fines, and should clarify legal language, and the court’s policies attendant to procedural due process. They must not, however, cross the line separating a court employee from a licensed legal practitioner by giving their opinion on the law or, worse, giving their opinion as the law. Court employees should cite this tenet when pressed by those seeking gratuitous legal advice.

Guideline for Tenet Eight. Duty to Service

A major goal of all court employees is to provide accurate and timely information. When giving information to customers, whether orally or in writing, present it in as easily understandable a format as the inquiry allows, and avoid legal jargon whenever possible. Court personnel are employed to serve and should strive to do everything possible to make things easier for customers rather than for themselves or the court organization. The category of customer should extend not only to the general public but also to attorneys, process servers, staff members of other justice agencies, and especially to fellow court employees. Colleagues are internal customers and should have their information service needs met with the same level of dispatch and consideration as external customers.

Guideline for Tenet Nine. Competency

Court employees are encouraged to participate in professional activities and associations, and especially to take advantage of internal and external educational programs to improve their personal and professional skills. The laws and rules under which the courts operate are continually changing as a result of legislative actions, higher court decisions, and evolving values and technologies. Courts and their employees must perform efficiently despite this constant state of flux. Professional development may include attending classes, outside reading, participating in professional organizations, and soliciting ideas and information from others both during and after the work day. Court managers at all levels of the California court system should initiate and oversee ongoing professional growth programs for all court employees that includes the study of this Code.

Guideline for Tenet Ten. Discrimination

Each day court employees assist users of court services of many races, religions, national origins, languages, sexual orientations, and varieties of personal appearance. They may deal with accused felons, child abusers, participants in painful dissolutions, those grieving from an injury or loss of a loved one, or people experiencing any one of numerous kinds of human pain or dysfunction. Court employees are expected to treat each other and each user of court services equally and with compassion. Equal access to the court system and equal treatment for all is the cornerstone of the administration of justice. Court employees must expose and discourage discrimination wherever it exists.

Guideline for Tenet Eleven. Harassment

Court employees are to refrain from making sexual advances and insinuations that are inappropriate and offensive, or that could be perceived as such. Harassment may also take nonsexual forms such as verbal, physical and psychological. The investigation of a harassment complaint is difficult because a determination will often be based on the credibility of the parties. A supervisor is obligated, however, to conduct a prompt and thorough investigation of any allegation of harassment. If the investigation reveals that harassment has occurred, corrective action should be taken immediately. The supervisor should then conduct further inquiry to ensure that the action was effective and that the harasser has not retaliated against the complainant.

Guideline for Tenet Twelve. Technology

Information retained in electronic files should be treated like any other official court document. Its confidentiality should be assumed unless otherwise specified. To preserve the integrity of electronic systems, court employees shall correct any errors or omissions, guard against sabotage in any form, scan and repair viruses when possible, and avoid using court equipment for purposes other than court business. Great care should be taken in the transmission of electronic data so that it would not embarrass the court or the sender if read by an unintended recipient. Court employees may not install personal software or equipment without prior approval of the court executive officer, nor shall they take copyrighted software outside the court for personal use. Questions about the ownership of intellectual property should be directed to an administrator.