>AS WITH CROOKS and quacks in other professions, Pennsylvania’s misbehaving judges should be held accountable by an oversight group – a watchdog with both the ability and the inclination to dole out discipline.
Presumably, that’s the job of the state’s Judicial Conduct Board.
However, as became so painfully obvious in the wake of Luzerne County’s “kids for cash scandal,” the board apparently lacks the tenacity and the teeth to reliably deal with wayward jurists. In the now-infamous instance involving Luzerne County’s courthouse, the board bungled its response to allegations of case fixing and questionable changes in the handling of juvenile cases.
Ultimately, three former county judges either pleaded guilty to, or were convicted of, public corruption charges. If the conduct board had intervened, critics reasonably ask, might these judges have been brought to justice sooner, sparing damage to the institution and individuals who passed through their doors?
Last week, a Philadelphia-based advocacy group called Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts released a report calling for several sensible changes to the Judicial Conduct Board’s operations. The board’s viability, linked in no small way to its credibility among the public, is dependent on adopting many of these changes.
• Clarify procedures for the emergency or temporary removal of a judge while a complaint is being investigated, if warranted by allegations of serious bench misconduct.
• Institute a reconsideration process for dismissed complaints, requiring that new evidence be presented before the board will give a complaint a second look. Currently, the board has no reconsideration or appeal procedure.
• Communicate more directly with those people who have filed a complaint about its status.
• Implement term limits for board members.
• Spell out and strengthen rules governing conflicts of interest and recusal.
The Judicial Conduct Board must embrace these sorts of improvements to regain not only the public’s trust in its abilities, but also in the integrity of the court system. By failing to do so, it portrays itself as a lap dog – on the scene but essentially useless.
Judicial Board Must Prove Itself