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Archive for the 'Judicial Accountability' Category

Secrecy Pervades Texas Judicial Conduct Commission

The Texas Commission on Judicial Conduct has been accused of operating under a cloud of secrecy, conducting business behind closed doors and rarely administering sanctions to judges in public. According to KERA News, this is what state legislators have argued while reviewing the commission.

Earlier this year, the Commission on Judicial Conduct rejected a request by the Texas Sunset Advisory Commission to review the agency’s records and operations (see Gavel Grab). The conduct commission declared its meetings “closed to everyone.”

In April, a heated debate ensued between State Senator John Whitmire and the commission’s board chairman Thomas Cunningham over its reluctance to open its meetings and records, the article said. Read more

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New Judicial Accountability Law Takes Effect in Tennessee

A recently passed law to abolish Tennessee’s judicial discipline commission and replace it with a new ethics body, and to reform the way that judges are held accountable, has taken effect.

The law creates a new Board of Judicial Conduct, replacing the Court of the Judiciary. The plan also seeks to increase legislative oversight of the judicial branch.

“The new law aims to provide transparency and fairness to both complainants and judges,” said state Sen. Mike Faulk, a Republican, according to a Chattanoogan article.  “It also gives the Board a mechanism to use the new Rules of Judicial Conduct, which are nationally recognized as a model for other states, adopted by the Tennessee Supreme Court.”

The also law makes these other changes (see Gavel Grab):

  • All power to appoint members is removed from the Tennessee Supreme Court, which until now picked 10 of the 16 members. Read more
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Open Proceeding in Guantanamo Bay is Urged

The press and public have a constitutional right to observe proceedings of military commissions trying terror suspects, says a lawyer representing news organizations seeking an open proceeding at Guantanamo Bay.

At Guantanamo, “The values served by open criminal proceedings — public acceptance of the verdict, accountability for lawyers and judges, and democratic oversight of our government institutions — apply … with particular urgency,” lawyer David A. Schulz writes in a New York Times op-ed.

Schulz recently raised similar issues in arguing before a military judge that testimony by a captive on how the CIA interrogated him should not be closed. The judge then mooted the issue for the time being, according to a McClatchy Newspapers article. The defendant, Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, is accused of masterminding al-Qaida’s 2000 suicide bombing of the USS Cole, in which 17 sailors died.

“The thought of a Guantánamo defendant taking the stand to testify about his treatment, in his own words, may not be appealing for many reasons,” Schulz writes in his op-ed. “But we must be prepared to lay out all the facts, wherever they lead, if we are to demonstrate to the world that the verdicts ultimately rendered at Guantánamo are justifiable, however they turn out.”

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Tennessee Legislature OK’s New Plan for Disciplining Judges

Compromise legislation to abolish Tennessee’s judicial discipline commission and replace it with a new ethics body, and to reform the way judges are held accountable,  won legislative approval and was headed to the governor for his signature.

The plan seeks to increase legislative oversight of the judicial branch. Although it follows years of sometimes heated argument, according to a Knoxville News Sentinel article, the compromise that eventually was struck drew widespread support. It passed the state House on a vote of 88-5 this week.

Gavel Grab reported earlier on Tea Party conservatives’  push for Tennessee legislators to take control over naming members of the discipline commission, now called the Court of the Judiciary. The compromise version did not incorporate that idea. It makes these changes: Read more

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Targeted Judge Challenges Authority of Ethics Body

In an unusual Massachusetts case, a state judge is challenging the authority of the Commission on Judicial Conduct to ask questions about his reasoning in dozens of cases.

Judge Raymond B. Dougan (photo) is accused of bias in favor of defendants, according to a Boston Globe article. The judge, supported by a number of retired state and federal judges, asserts that judges should not be required to disclose their inner thoughts about cases. He has asked the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts to quash an investigatory subpoena, the ABA Journal reported.

To let a prosecutor effectively penalize a judge whose rulings he disagrees with amounts to a threat to judicial independence, said the judges supporting Judge Dougan.

But J. William Codinha, the special counsel who has led an investigation of Judge Dougan, maintained that if the judge succeeds,  “no sitting judge need ever remain truly impartial, for he may not be asked under oath if he is, and any improper bias or influence can remain safely concealed.’’

 

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Compromise on Judicial Ethics Body Advances in Tennessee

A compromise plan to reform the way judges are held accountable in Tennessee  won unanimous, 30-0 approval in the state Senate.

The compromise plan  would replace the Court of the Judiciary, as the state’s judicial discipline commission is known, with a “judicial board of conduct.”  The legislation seeks to increase legislative oversight of the judicial branch, according to a (Nashville) Tennesseean article. Tennessee’s judges had a voice in shaping the compromise.

Tennessee’s House has not yet voted on companion legislation. You can learn about other facets of the legislation, and its background, from Gavel Grab.

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When Judicial Accountability Secrecy, Good Government Collide

There’s a collision involving judicial accountability in Texas, between a judicial discipline commission and a state board assigned to investigate whether state agencies are working efficiently.

The Texas State Commission on Judicial Conduct has refused to allow the Sunset Advisory Commission to examine its records,  the Austin American-Statesman reported recently. The judicial commission hears misconduct complaints against Texas judges. Now the same newspaper has editorialized that the conduct commission is off-base.

The conduct commission said “its meetings are closed to everyone, including the Sunset Commission and its staff.” But the newspaper editorial, entitled “Judges are not above the law,” didn’t go along.

The editorial asked, “How could a state agency whose operations and salaries are paid for with public money in order to oversee public officials be allowed to tell the public and even the Sunset Commission that its records are off-limits?” And it asserted, “It shouldn’t take legislation to pry the agency’s records open for a review of its efficiency, but if that’s what it takes, lawmakers shouldn’t hesitate in making this public agency to open up its books.”

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Reform of Tennessee Judicial Ethics Body Advances

A compromise plan to reform the way judges are held accountable in Tennessee has won approval in both the state House Judiciary Committee and the state Senate Judicial Committee.

The legislation would replace the Court of the Judiciary, as the state’s judicial discipline commission is known, with a “judicial board of conduct,” according to a (Nashville) Tennessean article. You can learn about other facets of the legislation, and its background, from Gavel Grab.

Republican Sen. Mike Faulk said that despite its compromise nature, the bill would represent an improvement. “It solves a lot of problems,” he said.“The ends of justice are served.”

Many state judges support the bill, said Court of Criminal Appeals Judge Jeff Bivins.

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Compromise Would Reform TN Judicial Ethics Body

There is growing support in Tennessee’s legislature for a compromise plan to reform the way judges are held accountable, according to a (Nashville) Tennesseean article, and the state’s judges are said to agree to the compromise.

Gavel Grab has reported on Tea Party conservatives’  push for Tennessee legislators to take control over naming members of the discipline commission, called the Court of the Judiciary. The compromise version instead would make these changes:

  • The Court of the Judiciary, as the state’s judicial discipline commission now is known, would be replaced by a new “board of judicial conduct.”
  • All power to appoint members would be removed from the Tennessee Supreme Court, which now picks 10 of the 16 members. Read more
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Reform for Tennessee Judicial Ethics Body Debated

Tea party conservatives have pushed for Tennessee legislators to grab control over naming members of a judicial discipline commission, and legislators now are weighing two rival bills, one sponsored by a top critic of the panel and the other supported by judges.

The commission is called the Court of the Judiciary. It currently has 16 members, 10 of whom are judges — and most of the judges are Democrats, appointed by the state Supreme Court. The legislature is controlled by Republicans.

“The appearance of judges appointing judges to hear complaints on judges doesn’t give them much credibility,” said Senate Judiciary Chairwoman Mae Beavers, a Republican; her bill would get rid of the existing board and start over by cutting it to 12 members, including four sitting judges and one retiree. All members would be named by speakers of the House or Senate.

A reform bill pushed by judges would eliminate the Court of the Judiciary and set up in its place a “Board of Judicial Conduct,” still with 10 of its 16 members who are judges. The board would have a lower standard for conducting a full investigation; board members, not staff, would have responsibility for discarding complaints; and the board would issue public reports quarterly, according to a Tennessee Report article.

“Certainly there have been issues, and I think we’re trying to address those issues,” said Criminal Appeals Judge Jeff Bivins. “We have some new membership. I think some of us are looking harder at cases and taking a little tougher line.”

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