The Judge Code – 2015.01.12

Note: Because of the nature of the topic, this post contains references to issues some audiences may find offensive, including harassment, use of insensitive language, and assault. Reader discussion is advised.

This month’s meeting was about the newly released judge code of conduct. If you can’t make it all the way to the bottom, the summary is: Don’t be a scumbag. While that may seem a little oversimplified for an overview of an entire 10-page document, that’s really what it’s all about. Hopefully, you should be thinking, “Of course, I would never do that!” when you read the judge code, because it is a lot of common-sense stuff. The key idea is that in an organization as big as the judge program, people are naturally going to have different ideas about what is and isn’t acceptable, and we can’t hold people to standards that aren’t written down somewhere.

Note: In these scenarios, a character’s name that starts with a “J” indicates that the character is a judge. Unless stated otherwise, such a character is assumed not to be L4+ or an RC (such roles are held to a higher standard of behavior). As always, character names beginning with “A” or “N” are players.

Note: While some of these scenarios may be adapted from or based on real-life events, the names of the characters are in no way connected to real people. Any resemblance between a scenario discussed here and a real-life incident that may have been committed by a person with a similar name is coincidental. This is true in general of all the posts on this blog, but bears explicit mention here due to the nature of the scenarios presented.

In a nutshell:

  • The judge code of conduct is based on the following principles. Violation of these principles by a judge constitutes judge misconduct:
    • A judge should use his or her judge status or authority fairly.
    • A judge should not use his or her judge status or authority for undue personal gain.
    • A judge should create a welcoming environment.
    • A judge should take responsibility for his or her conduct and for the use of his or her judge status and authority.
    • Anything which would be considered player misconduct (for example, UC-Major or Cheating) is always considered judge misconduct.
  • The judge code lists the following categories of judge misconduct:
    • Violating Event Integrity
    • Impersonating a Judge
    • Significant Diplomacy Failure
    • Harassment
    • Assault
    • Wagering and Bribery
    • Theft
  • The code of conduct takes into account the “distance” the (alleged) misconduct has from Magic. Conduct is classified as Directly Connected, Partially Connected or Not Connected. Actions which are not connected to Magic or judging are generally not considered by the judge conduct committee.
  • The type and length of sanctions imposed for misconduct are based on the seriousness of the conduct involved and the distance of that conduct from judging.
  • Misconduct by a judge can and should be reported. Many channels of communication exist to facilitate such reporting:
    • Similar to submitting a review, it’s my opinion that in general, it’s best to first contact the judge responsible for the alleged misconduct, in person if possible, before pursuing any of these official channels.
    • The best method (in my opinion) of reporting misconduct is to contact the judge’s Regional Coordinator. You can find the RC’s contact information on this page[link]. RC’s generally know a lot of the judges in their regions and are tasked with helping resolve disputes involving judges. This means that the RC is best equipped to deal with most cases of alleged judge misconduct. In addition, the RC can identify patterns of behavior if multiple complaints, each relatively minor taken alone, are raised by different people.
    • Alternatively, there is a form located at that can be used to submit feedback. You don’t need to give your name to use it. Be aware, though, that total anonymity is probably not the most productive way to go. If you submit a report anonymously, the judge conduct committee will have nowhere to go if they need more information.
    • Feedback may be submitted to any L4+, who will then forward it to the judge conduct committee.
    • Reports of suspected misconduct may also be reported to the member of the regional coordinator advisory committee who is picked from the Pro Tour Hall of Fame. That person will forward the concern anonymously and will not reveal the reporting person’s identity to any judge without the reporting person’s consent. The current representative is Jon Finkel.
    • If the misconduct was reported at an event, the TO should be made aware as well.
    • In addition, serious misconduct, involving alleged or potentially criminal acts, should be reported to the appropriate authorities.
  • On a lighter note, keep in mind that these channels of communication are available for both positive and negative feedback. This is especially important given the advent of the Judge Exemplar program. While L1’s are not able to directly give recognitions, they are certainly able (and encouraged) to make others aware of exemplary behavior they have seen. RC’s and high level judges have lots of recognitions that they can give out, and they may give someone a recognition on your behalf.

Q: Jenna makes a mistake on a call that ends up costing Amy her win-and-in match. Amy is upset and e-mails Jenna’s RC. What is the most likely outcome?

A: Mistakes happen, sometimes in inconvenient spots. Of course, we try our best, but no judge makes the right call 100% of the time. Amy’s RC will probably convey this message in some form to Amy, but Jenna’s actions do not constitute misconduct.

Note: Resign yourself now that you will make mistakes while judging. Anyone who’s been judging for a significant amount of time can tell you stories about their favorites. After making a mistake (in judging or otherwise), the best course of action is to acknowledge it, apologize for it, and fix it if you can. After that, learn from it. Be fearlessly critical of yourself, and avoid, to use a Magic analogy, blaming your losses on mana screw when you should have mulliganed. For further detail, check out Matt Sauers’ article on the subject here.

Q: Jenna is running side events at a GP and is the head judge of a regular REL draft that two of her friends have entered. Jenna seats them next to each other so that they will not have to play each other until the last round. Is this OK?

A: No. Using her status as a judge, Jenna has manipulated the pairings of this draft for her friends’ personal gain. Jenna should be sanctioned for Violating Event Integrity. This misconduct is Directly Connected to judging.

Q: After judging an FNM, Jenna asks one of the players out on a date. He responds that he spends so much time and money on Magic that he doesn’t have any left for a girlfriend. Jenna replies that after this player spends some time with her, he won’t want to play Magic at all if it means them being apart. The player says that he’ll consider the offer and get back to her, but right now he needs to playtest for an upcoming Legacy tournament. Was Jenna’s conduct acceptable?

A: No. Jenna’s repeated requests for a date constitute Harassment, as defined in the code. Because it happened after, but not during a Magic event, this would be considered Partially Connected.

Note: If someone says no to a request like this, they’ll usually provide a reason. It’s common practice to try to spare someone’s feelings when doing this, so the reason they give may not be the real reason for saying no. Therefore, it’s best not to argue, but to simply drop the subject if your advances are declined. You’re far less likely to legitimately change someone’s mind in a case like this than you are to make them uncomfortable.

Q: Jenna is on staff at a Magic event. On her break round, she takes off her judge shirt and starts to head out for lunch. Her team lead notes that the text and illustration on her t-shirt convey a message that is disparaging to a particular minority group. Jenna replies that she just picked the shirt out in the dark when she got ready that morning and didn’t realize that it was inappropriate, but that it shouldn’t matter now, since she will be leaving the event hall to get food and doesn’t plan on returning until she goes back on duty. What would you say?

A: Even on break rounds, Jenna is still a representative of the judge program by virtue of being on staff for the event. Wearing such a shirt at this time would be a Significant Diplomacy Failure in Direct Connection to Magic. If I were the head judge, I would mandate that Jenna either cover or change the inappropriate shirt or else turn it inside out.

Q: Jenna is the head judge of an event that Amy is playing in. Amy is just coming off a long suspension that was assessed as a result of several counts of Cheating. Since Amy is doing well in the tournament, Jenna asks her judge staff to keep a close watch on her. Toward the end of the event, Amy approaches Jenna after her round and notes that ever since round 3, there has always been at least one judge hovering over her match. Amy speculates that such scrutiny is the result of baseless profiling and complains that it is affecting her play, since she must spend extra time and mental energy playing very tight for fear that any mistake will be perceived as an attempted cheat. Is Jenna’s conduct acceptable? How would you address Amy’s concerns?

A: Jenna is perfectly within her rights to subject a player with a history of suspicious behavior to increased scrutiny. Lying about what’s going on is not a good way to go, though. I would tell Amy that judges can watch whatever matches they want, and players at competitive REL are always expected to play carefully. I would acknowledge the possiblity that, given her history, some of the other players and judges may have an increased interest in her matches, but would reassure her that if she does make a legitimate mistake, she won’t be punished extra for it just becuase of her past.

Q: Jenna arranges a meeting with Amy intending to sexually assault her there. Is this OK?

A: No. This would constitute Assault, and is even given as an example of such in the judge code.

Note: In addition to reporting this to the judge conduct committee (using any of the channels listed above), Amy should also make a report to the appropriate authorities, given that this misconduct is almost certainly criminal in nature.

Q: Jenna posts a picture of a NM English Karakas on Facebook with the caption “Just found this in the bulk box at Fictional Local Game Store! Gotta love incompetant store owners who don’t know anything about Magic #Thanksguys #$1karakas.” Jenna’s profile picture is the staff photo from GP: Fort Wayne, with her in the third row. Is this OK?

A: Jenna’s post is problematic because of its disparaging comments personally directed towards the owners of Fictional Local Game Store. Such content could easily make the owners to feel bullied, and I wouldn’t blame them if they didn’t want to work with Jenna after this. Jenna will likely be sanctioned for a Significant Diplomacy Failure. This incident would be considered directly connected to Magic because Jenna’s profile picture clearly represents her as a Magic judge.

Note: Suppose Jenna changed her profile picture to, for example, a cat attempting to fit into a Pop Tarts box. Her conduct would then no longer be considered directly connected to judging, but rather partially connected, potentially reducing the severity of sanctions against her. For this reason, I recommend that all judges conscientiously refrain from using a profile picture that relates to Magic or judging on any social media.

Q: Jenna, a judge, invites her friend Amy to her house for a playtesting session. While there, Amy notices that Jenna is logged onto Youtube with the account “SexyMedic.” Jenna tells Amy that her other hobby is analyzing Starcraft VODs. Amy clicks on one of the videos and is appalled when she hears Jenna’s commentary, which makes frequent use of various sexist and homophobic slurs. Afterwards, Amy reports this to Jenna’s regional coordinator. What is the most likely outcome of this situation?

A: Jenna’s behavior, while revealing a lack of maturity, is unconnected to Magic and judging. As such, it is not for the judge program to consider. Amy was right to report her concerns to Jenna’s RC, but as long as this conduct does not manifest itself in an environment where she is representing herself as a judge or addressing a Magic-related audience, further discipline should not be pursued.

Note: This assumes that there is no mention of Magic or judging on her channel, for instance in her profile pic or in the commentary. If she makes such comments while acting or representing herself as a Magic judge, Jenna will be sanctioned for a Significant Diplomacy Failure.

Note: Because notices are sent out to judges even in cases where no further action will be taken, Jenna will probably find out that someone made this complaint against her. If she doesn’t tell many people about her other hobby, she might guess it was Amy, even if Amy reported anonymously. Any form of retaliation against Amy would be classified as a Significant Diplomacy Failure, and would result in sanctions against Jenna. On the other hand, I wouldn’t expect Amy to be invited back to Jenna’s house anytime soon.

Q: Jenna is the head judge of her store’s GPT. Only seven players show up, so Jenna wants to register as a competitor and immediately drop. Can she?

A: No. The head judge, floor judges, scorekeepers, and tournament organizers are listed as Tournament Officials in the MTR and are explicitly prohibited from entering an event as players [MTR 1.4]. Jenna’s doing so would constitute Violating Event Integrity.

Q: Jenna is reading a Reddit thread about a high-profile player’s DQ from a recent tournament for Cheating. Her account has a “Magic judge” tag after her name. Jenna makes a post stating that the player is “obviously guilty” and that she hopes the player will be suspended for a long time. Is this OK?

A: No. This sort of public demonization contributes to an unwelcoming environment for that player and his or her supporters, and could easily lead to a feeling of being bullied and/or emotional distress for them. By representing herself as a Magic judge while making these statements, Jenna has implied that the judge program supports or endorses them, even if this is not the case. Jenna will most likely be sanctioned for a Significant Diplomacy Failure Directly Connected to Magic and judging.

Note: Without the “Magic judge” tag, Jenna’s actions would still be considered Partially Connected to Magic because she is addressing an audience primarily composed of Magic players. Her sanctions may be less severe, but they are still likely forthcoming.

Note: My personal belief that there is no possible way that any sort of positive outcome can result from a judge posting in such a thread. Because these threads tend to be highly toxic, even a helpful reply such as “let’s not get carried away until the Investigation Committee makes a ruling” will generally only feed into the toxicity and escalate the situation. This is equally (or even more) true of “troll threads,” such as those with titles like “[Player name] under investigation for cheating (finally).” Eric Levine gives good advice on how to act in these and similar situations in his article here.

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