Talk of the Town: Commission must adopt Judicial Code of Conduct to restore integrity
Originally published Monday, July 9, 2018 at 05:58a.m.
Arizona’s founders created the Corporation Commission to address concerns about the influence of public utilities, to ensure protection for consumers, provide a fair return on operational costs and infrastructure investment for telecommunications, pipelines, and railways, and guarantee reliable energy and water.
Those same concerns continue to this day and are still reflected in Article 15 of our state constitution. While the Arizona Corporation Commission has features similar to the executive and legislative branches, the Corporation Commission carries out its regulatory duties as does the judicial branch of government, hearing rate cases, weighing evidence and issuing rulings with Corporation Commissioners serving as quasi-judicial officers.
Just as impartiality is important to the judiciary in reaching legal decisions, it is also critical when the Corporation Commission exercises its regulatory duties. To safeguard the character of the judiciary, the Arizona Supreme Court adopted the Code of Judicial Conduct, binding on every judge in Arizona from a Supreme Court Justice to a locally elected Justice of the Peace. With the fairness and impartiality of the Corporation Commission called into question, it is time to take serious steps to safeguard the character of the Corporation Commission.
The Code of Judicial Conduct is a reasonable, time-tested means for protecting the integrity of the Corporation Commission when exercising its quasi-judicial role in regulating public utilities. One of the candidates seeking to serve as a Corporation Commissioner, who is an Air Force officer and practicing attorney, has proposed adoption of the Code of Judicial Conduct for the ACC. This proposal, endorsed by two of Arizona’s most well-respected prosecutors, Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery and Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk, merits serious consideration.
Arizona’s Code of Judicial Conduct will help Corporation Commissioners avoid even an appearance of conflict or impropriety when executing their regulatory duties. The Code will help ensure that the regulation of public utilities is carried out with integrity and impartiality. In fact, the Preamble to the Code declares: “Judges should maintain the dignity of judicial office at all times and avoid both impropriety and the appearance of impropriety in their professional and personal lives.” Comprising four principles, the Code reads:
Canon 1: A judge shall uphold and promote the independence, integrity and impartiality of the judiciary, and shall avoid impropriety and the appearance of impropriety.
Canon 2: A judge shall perform the duties of judicial office impartially, competently and diligently.
Canon 3: A judge shall conduct the judge’s extrajudicial activities to minimize the risk of conflict with obligations of judicial office.
Canon 4: A judge or candidate for judicial office shall not engage in political or campaign activity that is inconsistent with the independence, integrity or impartiality of the judiciary.
Adopting the Code to reflect the nature and work of the Corporation Commission cannot help but impress upon the public servants who serve as Commissioners, the solemn obligation to maintain integrity. In turn, the people of Arizona will have increased trust and confidence in the decisions made and the manner in which they are made.
The Honorable Charles “Bud” E. Jones served as an associate judge on the Arizona Supreme Court from 1996 to 2002 and then as the Chief Justice of the court from 2002 to 2005. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.