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Why I Want to Serve on the Judicial Nominating Commission by John M. Burman[1]

JohnSince I announced my candidacy for a position on the Judicial Nominating Commission, I have been asked two questions. First, do I want the position? Second, is my health good enough for it? The answer to each questions is “yes.”

First, I want the job. Having spent decades trying to improve the professionalism of the Wyoming Bar, and believing that the judiciary plays a fundamental role in shaping lawyers’ behavior[2], I can think of nothing that would allow me to better pursue that objective.

Second, I have developed and pursued an interest in judicial ethics in recent years. To begin with, in 2008, then Chief Justice Voigt, appointed me to chair the Select Committee to Review the Code of Judicial Conduct (“the Committee”). The Committee included one Justice of the Wyoming Supreme Court, three District Court Judges, three Circuit Court Judges, two Municipal Court Judges, and a variety of lawyers who were involved with the judiciary. After meeting for several months, during which the Committee reviewed every word of the then new ABA Model Code of Judicial Conduct, the Committee recommended significant changes to the Officers and Commissioners of the Bar. In turn, they recommended the changes to the Wyoming Supreme Court. The court adopted the changes, which are now enshrined in the Wyoming Code of Judicial Conduct. Then, I wrote a law review article entitled: “Should Federal Judges Belong to or Openly Support Organizations that Promote a Particular Ideology?” 13 Wyoming Law Review 189 (2013). Finally, since the Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee (“JEAC”) was formed in 2010 (the JEAC consists of five members; three District Court or Circuit Court judges and two non-judges) I have been a member, and chair, of that group (the JEAC’s opinions are available on the website of the Wyoming Supreme Court).

The second question, whether my health is good enough, is a legitimate one. After all, I retired from teaching because of a disability. Fortunately, while I will always be disabled, that disability does not interfere unduly with my ability to perform the duties of a member of the Judicial Nominating Commission.  The disease from which I suffer is now known as Spino-Cerabellar Atrophy, type 7. It attacks those parts of my brain that govern coordination, speech (though I recently presented a one-hour speech to the University’s chapter of the Institute for Health Care Improvement), and vision. My cognitive ability is the same as before. I am no smarter than ever.

The bottom line is that I would not seek this job if I thought I could not do it well. Further, I would not seek it if I didn’t want it.

While I do not think others cannot do the job well, I do think that the years I have spent thinking and writing about lawyers’ and judges’ ethics will provide me with a unique perspective from which to evaluate persons who wish to become judges. That perspective will, I believe, be of value to the other members of the commission.

If you have other questions, please contact me at jmburman@uwyo.edu or (307) 742-3717.

[1] John M. Burman is the Carl M. Williams Professor Emeritus of Law and Ethics at the University of Wyoming College of law. He is also “Of Counsel” to the Laramie law firm of Corthell and King, P.C.

[2]  See e.g. John M. Burman, The Role of Trial Courts in Regulating Lawyers’ Conduct, Vol. XXIV, No. 4, Wyoming Lawyer (August 2001).