The Supreme Court has lately taken some interest in the integrity of the judicial system.
Last year, it ruled that millions of dollars in campaign spending on behalf of a West Virginia judge was reason enough to require his disqualification from a case involving his supporter.
“The probability of actual bias on the part of the judge,” Justice Anthony M. Kennedy wrote for the majority, was “too high to be constitutionally tolerable.”
And last month, the Supreme Court ordered the federal appeals court in Atlanta to have another look at a case in which jurors in a capital trial gave a trial judge an odd gift — a penis made of chocolate.
“From beginning to end,” the unsigned majority decision said, “judicial proceedings conducted for the purpose of deciding whether a defendant shall be put to death must be conducted with dignity and respect.”
To review the bidding: Campaign spending may undermine the integrity of the judicial system. The same goes for a gag gift of confectionary genitalia. But a love affair between the judge and prosecutor in a death penalty case is, in Texas, at least, another matter.
Liptak writes that Judge Holland is angry with Hood's lawyers for “annihilating my reputation," but as far as I can tell, she has no one but herself to blame on that score. She indulged in a secret sin. She admits that, because of that secret, if she'd been asked to recuse herself she would have done so. But because she concealed the information (and the DA actually lied about it) nobody knew to ask her to do the ethical thing and remove herself from the case. That Judge Holland thinks anybody but her is responsible for that chain of events beggars belief. She may be unhappy she got caught - that much I understand - but the only thing annihilating her reputation is the truth that finally came out and her self-serving delay in telling it.
Between Judges Holland and Keller, the last week has been a particularly unhappy one for current and former Court of Criminal Appeals judges. Both women blame their accusers for their troubles, not seeming to understand that the biggest disgrace wasn't necessarily their initial misbehavior but their continued, defiant insistence that no one had the right to hold them accountable.
These aren't the first examples of egregious judging from the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, but they're arguably the highest profile ones yet. Yet another benchslapping from SCOTUS, this time over sexually tinged misconduct by a former CCA judge, probably won't be enough in this author's opinion to cause the court to change its ways. That must ultimately happen at the ballot box. The Hood case shows that simply having become a national laughingstock clearly has had little impact on the court's self-satisfied behavior.
MORE: From Rick Casey at the Houston Chronicle, "Best clue: The case of the erotic candy."
See related Grits coverage:
- Sex Parte Redux: SCOTUS should "remedy appalling acts by a judge and officer of the court" in Charles Hood case, since Texas CCA won't
- Disgrace! CCA lets stand egregious misconduct in capital murder case
- Sex Parte: Coverup of judicial tryst tests CCA's ethical mettle
- CCA Follies: They who have put out the people's eyes reproach them of their blindness