Report slams California system for disciplining judges

A group of advocates have submitted a report to the California state legislature reporting that the California judicial disciplinary agency is too secret.

The commission on judicial performance which was established in 1960 was the first agency in any state where the power to investigate judges for ethical violations. It dismisses nearly 90% of the public complaints it receives, imposing discipline much less and often than other agencies in Arizona, Texas and New York. The report was issued by court reform LLC, a nonprofit headed by Joseph Sweeney an East Bay mathematician who said he was partly motivated by his encounters with family law courts.

He states that California fails to protect the public from judicial misconduct, and does not keep up with its peer’s judicial accountability. Sweeney’s group told the state assembly subcommittee that oversees the commissions $4.3 million budget.

No abusive or unethical judges were identified that were allowed to stay on the bench, but the advocacy group said the commissions proceedings are virtually impossible to monitor because most of them, complaints against judges, the judge’s responses and the commission’s decisions is dismissed complaints are sealed from the public.

The commission does on rare occasion released a summary of the complaints with the judge’s reply, and only a small fraction of cases that result in public disciplinary action for the most serious misconduct.

In other cases, the commission finds relatively minor behaviors it will withhold the documents at issue a private. The report called for an end to private disciplinary actions and a state audit of the commission.

Composed of three judges, to lawyers and six public members, the commission has a power to publicly reprimand a judge, issue a sensor for more severe misconduct or remove the judge from office, and ordered that the judge can appeal to the state supreme court.

The report went on to say that during the last decade the commission has received an average of 1082 complaints against judges each year, but only 67 judges in that 10-year time frame resulted in disciplinary action, with 34 judges leaving office after complaints.

Other states like New York the report stated, were more than twice as likely to oppose public discipline than the California commission, a Texas agency was nearly 3 times as likely and Arizona was for.

Victoria Henley, the commission’s director and chief counsel, responded by saying that the reports statistics were extremely flawed. She said for example sweeties group touted informal advisories and warnings to judges is disciplinary actions in Arizona but not California.

Always remember absolute power corrupts absolutely always will