Ethical standards for Caesar’s spouse

“Caesar’s wife should be above suspicion,” Julius Caesar famously said.  But that’s not always how it works.

The issue of higher standards has been explored  (among other places) in a prior posting.  It has also recently arisen in connection with scrutiny of various business activities of Virginia Thomas, Justice Clarence Thomas’ spouse.  As noted in a recent issue of Forbes:

“A number of ethics experts have criticized Ginni Thomas’ political activism and called for Justice Thomas to recuse himself from cases involving issues she’s involved with. Federal judicial ethics rules—by which Supreme Court justices are not formally bound, though they’re expected to act ethically—demand recusal for cases where there’s even an ‘appearance’ of a conflict, even if one does not actually exist, or if the judge’s spouse is ‘an officer, director or trustee” of an organization that’s a party to a case.” I think Ginni Thomas is behaving horribly, and she’s hurt the Supreme Court and the administration of justice” NYU law professor Stephen Gillers told the New Yorker.

My point here is not to evaluate her particular conduct (which has already been done by Professor Gillers and many others). Rather, it is to suggest more generally that companies and other organizations should have some sort of standards for such rare but high risk “Caesar’s wife” situations.

This could be a relatively short document (or part of a longer one) which:

– Describes activities by spouses or others that can create  serious COIs or COI-like situations.

– Describe the harm that such COIs can cause.

– Discuss relevant disclosure expectations (standards and procedures).

– Where applicable, describe ongoing oversight/monitoring responsibilities.

Finally, it should be noted that Justice Thomas said that the recent leak of a draft opinion of the Court has hurt the trust of the public.   Such potential loss of trust is, ironically, the very reason to have a “Caesar’s spouse” standard in the first place.

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