Monday, June 23, 2008

Alabama Judicial System Gets a D+ in Judicial Ethics

They really should have gotten an F- in judicial ethics. Case and point.

News staff writer
Birmingham News

Alabama's system of enforcing judicial ethics received poor marks in a report card recently issued by the national watchdog group HALT.

HALT, or Help Abolish Legal Tyranny, gave Alabama an overall grade of D+ and ranked the state 38th in its 2008 Judicial Accountability Report Card.

The Washington-based legal reform group issued failing grades for not requiring judges to publicly disclose potential financial conflicts and for putting few limits on receiving gifts.

HALT said the report was the first comprehensive nationwide study of systems used by states to police judicial ethics. Alabama was one of 16 state and federal jurisdictions with overall grades below C.

The survey said the procedures and investigations by the Alabama Judicial Inquiry Commission are not transparent enough, and the system lacks meaningful sanctions.

"Alabama's system of judicial oversight gives too many judges a free pass," Suzanne M. Blonder, HALT's senior counsel, said in a statement. "We hope that Alabama's chief judicial officers will work to transform a mechanism marred by secrecy into a system dedicated to upholding the integrity of the judiciary."

Jenny Garrett, executive director of the Alabama Judicial Inquiry Commission, said she strongly disagreed with HALT's assessments and Blonder's comments.

"Alabama has always been considered to be in the forefront of judicial ethics," she said. "This commission is very diligent in following the rules of procedures promulgated by the Alabama Supreme Court and the state Constitution."

The commission, however, believes some of the rules it must follow have hurt the system's integrity, Garrett said.

Under the leadership of then-Chief Justice Roy Moore, the state's high court changed rules in 2001, allowing accused judges to receive copies of complaints against them. The information included the name of the person who filed the complaint.

"Our filings of complaints dropped in half," Garrett said. The most drastic drop was in complaints by lawyers, she said.

A court committee is now considering restoring complainant confidentiality.

Alabama's Judicial Inquiry Commission receives and investigates complaints filed against judges and justices, and recommends whether formal charges should be filed.
Those charges are considered by a nine-member Court of the Judiciary, which can suspend, remove or otherwise censure a judge.

One of the court's best-known decisions was when it ousted Moore as chief justice in 2003 for defying a federal judge's order to remove his Ten Commandments monument from the Supreme Court building in Montgomery.

Praise, criticism:

HALT gave Alabama a high mark for what the group called "consumer friendliness" because the state does not ban people from speaking publicly about complaints they file against judges.

But HALT criticized the Judicial Inquiry Commission because its Web site does not have complaint forms to download.

Garrett agreed a downloadable form was needed, and said a Web site update is in the works. She said all information a complainant needs to know is listed online, mostly in the commission's annual reports.

Other issues cited by HALT include the fact that the commission does not release information about complaints until it files formal charges.

HALT gave Alabama a high mark for what the group called "consumer friendliness" because the state does not ban people from speaking publicly about complaints they file against judges.

Huh? In the letter the Judicial Inquiry Commission sent me reporting that they had taken appropriate action against Judge Kim Taylor they forbade me from discussing it saying it was confidential information. I completely ignored their rules on that one. If a judge does wrong and gets sanctioned for it and it is a case that involves me then you can bet your ass that I'm a tell it!! I'm a tell it all!!

Here is another way that the judicial inquiry commission sucks....they refuse to tell you what action they took against a judge. I feel if I file a complaint and it is acted upon in my favor then I have a right to know what action was taken. How come the judge, who is obviously guilty of wrong doing gets to hide behind this cloak of secrecy? If we regular citizens get caught doing something wrong and are subsequently convicted of it our punishments are broadcast all over the media and our communities. It should be no different for those whose task it is to 'judge us'.

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