Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Lege should send constitutional amendment to voters on Judicial Conduct Commission

The State Commission on Judicial Conduct receives about 1,200 complaints per year against Texas judges, executive director Seana Willing told a House Appropriations Subcommittee today. About half of those are people who don't understand the system and are improperly trying to use the commission as a sort of appellate process. Of the other 600 or so, most complaints are dismissed. Last year the commission gave 49 sanctions to Texas judges, she said,  down from a high of 79 or 80 several years ago. Almost all of the sanctions were "private" and the public may never know about them.

Sunset Commission staff complained at the hearing that the commission's confidentiality provisions wouldn't let them adequately evaluate the process, recommending the agency be evaluated again in six years instead of twelve. Moreover, Sunset implied that there really wasn't a good reason for so many informal findings to be secret, and one legislator pointed out that their own foibles were instantly public.

Though she never mentioned her by name, Willing raised the conundrum that caused Court of Criminal Appeals Presiding Judge Sharon Keller's misconduct finding to be overturned: The commission has access to a complete range of punishments in its secret proceedings, but in its public proceedings the range of punishments they can give are inexplicably limited. Sharon Kellers' misconduct trial was one of the commission's rare public proceedings (they've had 12 in 10 years) and their ruling was overturned because they chose to "warn" Keller instead of "censure" her. From any perspective it was an absurd and unsatisfying outcome, with the punishment deleted but the misconduct findings remaining intact. To fix the problem would require a constitutional amendment, said Sunset staff, that would require a one-time cost of $105,000 to hold an election.

I hope the Lege does send such a constitutional amendment to the voters. Sharon Keller's misconduct trial demonstrated there's massive confusion over conflicts between the state constitution, the statutes, and Texas Supreme Court rules governing judicial oversight. And Grits surely agrees with Sunset there's no good reason judicial misconduct findings should be secret.


Anonymous said...

A simple, accessible, direct method is needed for citizens to complain about judicial misconduct. Currently, judges in Texas at all levels act with immunity and impunity. Their misconduct makes the whole judicial system disreputable. It is worth the cost to make judges more accountable and publicize their misconduct.

Anonymous said...

Open government at all levels is important. To have a commission that can operate totally in secret leads to suspicion and distrust. Judges who fail to act ethically need to be held accountable. When you have judges like Jack Skeen that repeatedly and regularly engage in misconduct yet have faced no disciplinary action, there is a problem. A buddy of Skeen's is on the Commission. Beucase of the current secrecy we have know way to know whether someone with a conflict of interest is participating in and influencing decisions.

Thomas R. Griffith said...

Hey Grits, while it's early in this GFB Posting's life and with a guestimated 1,200 complaints filed in any given year (so they say) I hope that it receives more comments than your bandwidth can handle. Leading to action(s).

Why. Because it's just 'one' of the secretive backroom affairs being allowed to be conducted internally regarding: Texas courts' of law, the Clemency Section regarding Full Pardons & the numerous entities that are charged with enforcing the ungodly amount of laws').

On the heels of your thoughts & suggestions and of course the early bird Anon's logical input above, I'll go one step further. As of today (right friggin now to be exact), I am calling on everyone including: Anons, D's , R's, I's, T.Ps., Bloggers, trespassers with a free pass, and even robots to hold fundraisers & donation drives starting today.

BUT, with the strict and precise intent to forward any & all funds to a reputable entity to hold and hand deliver to the State Comptroller's office to be used to cover the cost of launching a special election addressing needed constitional amendment(s) aimed at de-secertising Texas.

Anyone having suggestions as to whom this should be entrusted with are asked to chime in. *I nominate Grits. (or ask Grits to nominate a trusted source). Believe it or not folks, we the friggin people have a right to know but first we have a civic duty to wake the F--k up. Thanks.