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Supreme Court compromises on Boy Scouts issue

Judges in California who belong to the Boy Scouts may continue to associate with the group but they may be required to disclose their membership or even disqualify themselves in particular cases, the Supreme Court announced last month.

In a highly anticipated order, the court acted on requests from four county bar associations that had sought a change in the Code of Judicial Ethics to require judges to disassociate from the Boy Scouts because of its discriminatory policies toward gay men and boys.

While it did not go that far, the court unanimously agreed to offer a compromise that even when membership in a particular organization is permitted under the canons, “the judge still should disqualify himself or herself in a particular case when doing so would be appropriate.”

Further, the court said, “Even if a judge believes there is no basis for disqualification, the judge should disclose the membership to the parties or their lawyers if the judge believes they may consider it relevant to the question of disqualification.”

The order does not amend the rules but came in the form of new language to be added to the Commentary to Canon 3E.

“I think it’s an important step forward,” said Jeff Bleich, president of the Bar Association of San Francisco, one of the bars that asked the court to eliminate the Boy Scouts’ exemption to the judicial canon barring judges from associating with groups that practice “invidious discrimination.”

Although the court didn’t dump the exemption, the new language “accomplishes largely the same thing,” Bleich said.

The guidelines can be interpreted broadly and are not limited soley to sexual orientation cases, he added.

Judges in California have long been divided about the propriety of membership in the Scouts.

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