The Washington State Code of Judicial Conduct consists of four Canons, numbered Rules under each Canon, and Comments that generally follow and explain each Rule. Scope and Terminology sections provide additional guidance in interpreting and applying the Code. An Application section establishes when the various Rules apply to a judge or judicial candidate.
The Canons state overarching principles of judicial ethics that all judges must observe. They provide important guidance in interpreting the Rules. A judge may be disciplined only for violating a Rule.
The Comments that accompany the Rules serve two functions. First, they provide guidance regarding the purpose, meaning, and proper
application of the Rules. They contain explanatory material and, in some instances, provide examples of permitted or prohibited
conduct. Comments neither add to nor subtract from the binding obligations set forth in the Rules. Therefore, when a Comment contains
the term "must," it does not mean that the Comment itself is binding or enforceable; it signifies that the Rule in question, properly understood, is obligatory as to the conduct at issue.
Second, the Comments identify aspirational goals for judges. To implement fully the principles of this Code as articulated in the Canons, judges should strive to exceed the standards of conduct established by the Rules, holding themselves to the highest ethical standards and seeking to achieve those aspirational goals, thereby enhancing the dignity of the judicial office.
The Rules of the Washington State Code of Judicial Conduct are rules of reason that should be applied consistent with constitutional requirements, statutes, other court rules, and decisional law, and with due regard for all relevant circumstances. The Rules should not be interpreted to impinge upon the essential independence of judges in making judicial decisions.
Although the black letter of the Rules is binding and enforceable, it is not contemplated that every transgression will result in the imposition of discipline. It is recognized, for example, that it would be unrealistic to sanction judges for minor traffic or civil infractions. Whether discipline should be imposed should be determined through a reasonable and reasoned application of the Rules. The relevant factors for consideration should include the seriousness of the transgression, the facts and circumstances that existed at the time of the transgression, including the willfulness or knowledge of the impropriety of the action, the extent of any pattern of improper activity, whether there have been previous violations, and the effect of the improper activity upon the judicial system or others.
The Code is not designed or intended as a basis for civil or criminal liability. Neither is it intended to be the basis for litigants to seek collateral remedies against each other or to obtain tactical advantages in proceedings before a court.