The relentless threats to the Polish judiciary from the state’s ruling “Law and Justice” party have taken yet another distressing turn. Just Security reports on the state’s new Disciplinary Office for Common Court Judges, designed to control and punish individual judges who stand up for the rule of law. As the article notes:
Together with the politicization of the Disciplinary Chamber, the message is clear for all members of the judiciary: follow the party line or face the consequences. Indeed, there are early indicators that most of the disciplinary actions taken against judges so far have targeted judges who have been outspoken on issues of judicial independence and the rule of law.
The Institute for the Advancement of the American Legal System (IAALS) has released a new report entitled Recommendations for Judicial Discipline Systems. Authored by University of Arizona law professor Keith Swisher and Brookings Fellow Russell Wheeler, it is a careful and sober analysis of existing judicial discipline systems, with recommendations for improving the process in a way that protects judicial independence and integrity as well as public expectations about efficiency, fairness, and transparency.
Cribbing from the Preface:
Effective judicial discipline is an important part of a trusted and trustworthy court system. The public must know that judicial ethics and violations of the Code of Judicial Conduct are taken seriously. Absent that assurance, the system appears self-serving, protectionist, and even potentially corrupt. And it is not just the reality of the existence of effective systems that matters; it is also the appearance. A wholly effective system with no transparency and no public confidence will not suffice.
To explore the functioning of judicial conduct commissions, in March 2018, IAALS convened a 21-person group of commissioners, commission staff, judges, lawyers, and scholars (identified in Appendix A). They, along with IAALS Executive Director Rebecca Kourlis and a small number of IAALS staff, worked through the agenda in Appendix B. This Report draws on that Convening.
James Duff, Director of the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts, circulated a memo last week stating that “The Chief Justice has asked me to establish a working group to examine the sufficiency of the safeguards currently in place within the Judiciary to protect court employees, including law clerks, from wrongful conduct in the workplace.”
The announcement comes in the wake of Ninth Circuit Judge Alex Kozinski’s sudden retirement, spurred by several allegations of workplace harassment in his chambers. The Chief Justice has referred the matter to the Second Circuit Judicial Conference for investigation shortly before Kozinski resigned.
A report and recommendations are expected by May.
The Washington Post has the story here.
In a sad and bizarre story, the Illinois Courts Commission ordered Chicago judge Valarie Turner to retire on Friday, after an investigation found that Turner had given her judicial robe to her clerk and allowed the clerk to preside over several traffic court cases in August 2016.
According to the Chicago Sun-Times:
Circuit Judge Valarie E. Turner has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease and is “mentally unable to perform her duties,” according to a complaint filed Thursday by the Illinois Judicial Inquiry Board.
Turner allowed law clerk Rhonda Crawford to take her seat behind the bench and rule on several traffic cases last August after introducing her to a prosecutor as “Judge Crawford,” the board contends.
“We’re going to switch judges,” Turner allegedly said during an afternoon court call, before standing up and giving her judicial robe to Crawford.
It appears that Turner’s current mental condition made her forced retirement a fairly straightforward decision for the Board. But it’s entirely unclear why Crawford would play along with this charade, and she has lost her law license as a result.
Palm Beach County judge Dana Santino, who last spring admitted to serious ethics violations during her election campaign last November, is now asking the Florida Supreme Court to reject a recommendation that she be removed from office.
Santino admitted making statements disparaging her opponent’s criminal defense work–statements which were found to impugn the integrity of her opponent and the entire legal profession. After an investigation, the state Judicial Qualifications Commissions recommended that Santino lose her judicial position.
The state supreme court has yet to make a decision, and could still schedule oral arguments on the Commission’s recommendation. Judge Santino remains on the county civil court bench pending resolution of the matter.