NM Judge Backs State’s Professional Evaluation Commission

In an opinion piece in the Albuquerque Journal, Judge Daniel Ramczyk of the Bernalillo County Metropolitan Court, draws upon his experiences to explain the benefits of New Mexico’s Judicial Performance Evaluation Commission (JPEC).

Ramczyk goes on to argue that the JPEC’s ability to provide judicial accountability in the state’s courts and independent information for its voters make it indispensable.

Describing JPEC’s performance evaluation and information gathering process, he writes that they “solicit responses from attorneys, law enforcement officers, court staff and jurors…these individuals are asked to evaluate judges in numerous categories, such as fairness, knowledge of the law, integrity and demeanor. JPEC collects and summarizes this data and then provides it to the judges.”

Ramczyk concludes by reflecting on the effect the JPEC evaluation process has had on him:  “I am a better judge today because of this anonymous process. I am able to see myself through the eyes of the people who come into my courtroom. The JPEC process is serious business and it can mean the end of a judicial career for any judge who does not take it seriously.”



Article Criticizes Elections, Lack of Oversight in WI Judicial System

An article in the Wisconsin Post-Crescent criticized the state’s system of judicial oversight, citing its method of choosing judges through judicial elections and a lack of access to information as key problems.

“Judges get no feedback to help them operate more fairly or effectively, and voters get no information with which to make an informed decision in judicial elections,” Marquette Law School professor, Michael O’Heare said.

According to the Post-Cresent, Wisconsin doesn’t have a rich history of judicial oversight: it shut down a judicial commission to study sentencing trends in 2007 and the state has only held six judicial disciplinary hearings in the last 15 years.

A lack of objective performance standards is especially problematic since Wisconsin relies on the public to select judges, according to O’Hear: “It’s a real problem, because there is so little information that’s out there. No. 1 there’s just an automatic tendency to reelect incumbents, because you don’t know any better. But every once in a while you do have a seriously contested judicial election, and then the outcome of that can be controlled by some 30-second attack ad, because that ad is the only information voters have about candidates.”


Arkansas Legislator Makes the Case For Required Recusal

Arkansas Representative John Baine (D)

Arkansas state Rep. John Baine proposed a bill on Thursday requiring that judges recuse themselves from civil cases involving “major campaign contributors,” according to the Associated Press.

“If a reasonable person could perceive that the donation would impair the judge’s impartiality or if there is a ‘serious, objective’ probability of actual bias,” the article explains, the judge would be required to follow the request. Judges who refuse would have to do so in writing, and the refusal could be challenged within 30 days of filing.

The proposal came in the wake of Judge Mike Maggio’s bribery conviction. For background on that case, see Gavel Grab.

JAS: TN Judges' Fundraising Part of Retention Election Trend

The increasing politicization of state judicial retention races, when judges seek a new term on an up-or-down vote, has led to judges raising large campaign sums to defend themselves against ouster efforts, Justice at Stake said on Friday. JAS also reported on election fundraising developments in the state.

“In recent years we have seen state judicial retention races become more politicized,” noted Debra Erenberg, director of State Affairs for Justice at Stake, which has been monitoring money and politics in this year’s judicial elections. “As a result, we are seeing judges raising large sums of money to defend themselves against efforts to oust them. That’s what is happening in Tennessee.”

JAS said in a news release that campaigns to retain three targeted justices in Tennessee have purchased at least $107,610 worth of TV airtime and begun airing ads on behalf of the candidates. The justices’ campaigns have reported a fundraising total of  $598,261.99 according to state disclosure records.

Meanwhile, the Republican State Leadership Committee, a Washington-based organization, registered with the state elections board on July 10, reinforcing expectations that it plans to launch a campaign aimed at ousting the three justices. (more…)

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. (more…)

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. (more…)

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.”


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: (more…)

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.’’


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.