Saturday, November 26, 2011

Few cases against judges sustained by Judicial Conduct Commission

Looking at the self-evaluation report (pdf) from the State Commission on Judicial Conduct, we discover that scarce few complaints against judges result in any sort of disciplinary action, including reprimands, warnings, or "private admonitions." Here's a chart Grits compiled from data on p. 19:

A total of 22 judges over this period resigned in lieu of disciplinary action by the commission, including 10 in FY 2010. (Analyzing details of those stories would make an interesting study of the dark underbelly of Texas jurisprudence!) Of the tiny number of cases resulting in disciplinary actions, a whopping 118 of the 260 sanctions (45.4%) against Texas elected judges over this period were kept private, with details never reported to the public.

In none of those years, though, did the commission take the extraordinary step of recommending the Supreme Court suspend a judge, as they did in William Adams' case.


Anonymous said...

Unfortunately, most of the information on specific investigations is confidential under the state constitution. This needs to be changed.

It would be interesting to see how many judges have had multiple complaints with no disciplinary action taken. I know for a fact that Jack Skeen has had multiple complaints filed against him. Despite significant evidence of open and obvious bias, intentionally disregarding rules of evidence or making up rules to favor the prosecution, improper ex parte communications with prosecutors, setting excessive bonds in conspiracy with the DA's office, and many, many other indications of misconduct.....not to mention the benchslapping from the 14th Court of Appeals that said he adopted ad hoc rules of evidence to help the prosecution and systematically prevented the defense from presenting its case....yet, no disciplinary action has been taken. I can't help but wonder if the fact that his political crony, Smith County Judge Joel Baker is on the commission has anything to do with the lack of action against Skeen.

But, its all done in secret so there is no accountability.

DEWEY said...

And you expected???? It's part of the "Good Ole Boys Club".

Open said...

Anyone check the number of sanctions handed out to lawyers by the state bar as a whole versus the number of sanctions handed down to judges? And we all know the number of judges "disciplined" primarily include Justices of the Peace. Seems like an illusion to imply pervasive corruption among higher court judges when the reality is otherwise. Unless you need this concept pushed for certain political reasons.

Anonymous said...

GFB says: "...scarce few complaints against judges result in any sort of disciplinary action...

But clearly the proper question to ask is how many founded complaints result in disciplinary action. In order to reach a judgement about the Commission and its work, one would have to make assumptions about the percentage of complaints that are truly and obviously founded, that are truly and obviously spurious, and that are somewhere in the gray area.

One could assume that 100% of the complaints are founded. But there appears to be no more basis for this assumption than the assumption that 0%, or 10% are founded.

So I for one have no way of reaching any sort of judgement, good or bad, regarding the commission.

No doubt in response to this comment GFB will offer his well-used excuse that he is not drawing a conclusion - he is just passing along information. That, of course, is crockery of the first order.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

9:43, where would you suggest I find that information, since all those complaints are secret? You're attacking me for not publishing information that's simply unavailable.

Think what you like, but this post took no stance precisely because the data provided by the agency in its self-evaluation are vague and incomplete. I often record factbites on this blog that capture one piece of the puzzle hoping that, over time, as more information becomes available, piecing them together will provide a fuller understanding, which is exactly the spirit in which I posted this data.

Do I think the commission should be more active? Sure. I also think they should be more transparent.

Anonymous said...

Hey 9:43, maybe you're on the right track. After all, all government agencies and commissions do such good,thorough, and honest jobs we don't need any stiking open goverment/records laws. Lets just do away with those pesky things. Its such a safe assumption that government will always do the right thing. Who ever heard of such things as incompetent beuracrats, cronyism, corruption in government...completely unheard of. In fact, I bet judicial misconcut is so rare we don't even need this particular commission..

I may not have any way to know what percentage of complaints should be founded or unfounded....but I know there has been more than ample evidence of misconduct on the part of Jack Skeen provided to the commission proving misconduct and yet no action has been taken. I can only speculate that part of the reason for this is because his buddy is on the commission. You don't just have to accept my word for it. Fortunately, appellate court decisions are not kept secret. Look at the 14th court of appeals decision in the Patrick Kelly case. There is ample evidence of misconduct documented in that decision to take disciplinary action. So, why didn't they?

Anonymous said...

1:28 PM - Gosh, I thought I was making a pretty reasonable observation - that the numbers provided by GFB were meaningless without more information. I understand that GFB often offers up these sorts of uninterpretable numbers but then manages somehow to interpret them anyway. In this instance, although he somehow managed to avoid make the point in his original post, GFB's intent was apparently to argue for greater Commission transparency.

I would agree with the desirability of greater transparency. I think greater government transparency is a good thing. Hey, I've got friends who have FBI files because political activism in the '60s. For all I know, I have one.

But as the first comment noted, the Commission is constitutionally prohibited from being transparent. It is prohibited from responding to public information act requirements. So getting transparency will require a change to the constitution, which means it will only happen by convincing people that it is the best thing to do, and then figuring out a way to do it.

GFB's argument for transparency would have been much more convincing: 1) if he had made it in the original post; 2) if he had simply (and correctly) noted that there was no way to evaluate the numbers without greater transparency; and 3) if he had talked about what would be needed to increase transparency.

Unfortunately, he did none of these things in his original post or in his response to my comment. He just offered up uninterpretable numbers with the implication that they actually meant something. Perhaps this was just a poor blogging day for him. If so we should encourage him to do better in the future.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

7:24, if you're not satisfied with the work product here at Grits I'll gladly refund the admission price and you needn't feel obligated to return. My feelings won't be hurt, I promise.

This was a 3 paragraph post adumbrating a few, topline data from the SCJC's self-evaluation report, a document I should add that no other media outlet in the state has examined, discussed, etc., in the slightest. The post laid out a few agency produced data without comment and drew no conclusions from them pro or con. And I linked to the primary source so those who want it can get as much detail as I have. Given that, I really don't understand your complaint.

Anonymous said...

GFB - You are being rather disingenuous in saying that you laid out facts without comment and drew no conclusions. You use language that clearly indicates a view that too few of the complaints resulted in disciplinary actions.

That view may or may not be a correct view. But it is certainly doesn't fall out of the numbers that you extracted, processed and presented.

So my objection is not to a particular view. It is to pseudo analysis used to support the view.

Does that clarify things for you?

quash said...

I appreciate seeing the raw data, since it doesn't get compiled anywhere else, apparently. I see the monthly reports in the Bar Journal, and they tend to deal mostly with JPs, no surprise there. I also assume that many, perhaps most, are groundless.

Still glad to see the data. Thanks GFB.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Like I said, 6:16, if you want I'll refund your admission price. You needn't feel obligated to visit here if you think I'm a biased or unreliable source.

Grits operates under no pretense of journalistic objectivity. What you read here is more akin to what you see on an editorial page. I consider this opinion writing, so I express my opinions freely, no doubt. My view is not definitive, but there's nothing wrong with me having one. But in this case you're the one leaping to conclusions and inferring motive. All I did was report the same data SCJC did (though you seem to not have the same disdain for them not giving more detail). I also linked to the primary source so you and others can read, interpret it, and even comment to Sunset yourself, something I've enthusiastically encouraged.

That said, it's ironic that no other media outlet in the state has even mentioned the SCJC Sunset review, but somehow I'm the bad guy because, in measly three-paragraph post, I reported the same data SCJC did and omitted mention of data the agency failed to provide? It's a low, single-digit rate; I said so; it's true. And since the process is secret, we can't really judge whether it's justified or not, which is why the post expressly drew no conclusions, whatever ill-intent you'd like to infer to the author.