>A House panel has moved a bill that would make public most Judicial Qualifications Commission proceedings once the commission has determined whether to file formal charges.
Rep. Shawn Harrison, R-Tampa, told the House Civil Justice Subcommittee March 9 that HJR 11-05 would amend the constitution so that the JQC process matches the standards of the Florida Commission on Ethics that apply to all other elected officials. “The upside of this bill is transparency,” Harrison said. “We are giving the voters the opportunity to decide whether or not we want to have the same transparency standards apply to the members of the judiciary as apply to other elected officials.”
Nearly all records of the JQC are currently confidential. Only if formal charges are filed against a judge are the records open, and then only the records created after the filing of charges. If charges are not filed, the records never become public.
“Because this process is not open to the public, we don’t really know what the statistics are,” said Harrison, a commercial litigator. “We know how many complaints were filed [and how many] resulted in formal charges. But we don’t know what happened in the middle. We don’t know if 50 percent of the complaints — or 75 percent — are just totally frivolous and without merit, or if they were close calls. I think that is good information to have, and I think, ultimately, that’s probably information voters are entitled to have, too.”
JQC Chair Miles McGrane of Coral Gables said, while the commission welcomed the spotlight: “We fear if we just lift the blanket of confidentiality we are going to put a chilling effect on the source of the very important complaints that we investigate.”
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Bill Would Make Complaints Against Judges Public Record