Archive for the ‘Judiciary Conduct’ Category

Bronx Surrogate Judge Lee Holzman keeps his job despite breaking the rules

January 1, 2013

In one of the worst rulings in its history, the state Commission on Judicial Conduct decreed that a judge may stay on the bench despite giving a pass to a lawyer friend who’d grabbed hundreds of thousand of dollars in excessive fees from the estates of the dead.

The panel let Bronx Surrogate Judge Lee Holzman off with merely a censure, rather than order his removal from the bench, sympathetically citing his impending retirement.

As surrogate judge, Holzman presided over the disposition of estates. His employees include a counsel whose duties center on cases in which people have died without leaving a will. For compensation, the counsel draws money from the estates according to percentage formulas set by law.

When Holzman’s counsel, Michael Lippman, got caught taking far larger amounts than he was entitled to, Holzman kept him on the job. That way, Lippman was supposed to earn more fees so he could repay the filched funds.

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Bronx Surrogate Judge Lee Holzman keeps his job despite breaking the rules

Texas Judges: Out of Order – Part 3

August 28, 2012

Texas is one of just six states that select all of its judges in partisan elections. Critics say that creates conflicts of interest and politics becomes more important than qualifications. In the third part of “Texas Judges: Out of Order,” we look at the pros and cons of the way Texas selects judges and some alternatives.

“All rise, the 95th District Court of the State of Texas is now in session. The Honorable Ken Molberg presiding.”

Lawyers snap to attention as Judge Ken Molberg prepares to rule on a motion involving two healthcare companies. At one point he raises his voice and tells an attorney to stop talking when she interrupts him. Never mind, that the attorney’s law firm contributed generously to Judge Molberg’s reelection campaign. As it turns out, the opposing law firm in the case donated too.

“It’s not unusual for me given the many years I’ve been in this community as a lawyer before I was a judge to know both sides of that table very, very well and to have had both of them contribute to my campaign,” said Molberg.

“You just saw a small motion where I got a little testy with one of the lawyers who happened to be one of my largest contributors. That lawyer didn’t get any slack out there this morning,” he pointed out.

Judge Molberg is a former Dallas County Democratic Party Chair and one of the biggest fundraisers among the county’s civil and criminal judges. Records show that in the first six months of his reelection campaign Molberg raised more than $175,000 just in case he drew a primary opponent which he didn’t. And 93% of the contributions came from attorneys and the legal community many of whom appear in his court.

How that’s perceived by the public bothers some of Molberg’s colleagues on the bench including Judge Jim Jordan, whose courtroom is down the hall. Like Molberg and most Texas judges, Jordan’s campaign contributions also come almost entirely from lawyers.

“Any litigant who comes into the court should leave the court knowing that their case was decided on the law and the facts and not believing that their case was decided because the judge received a contribution from an attorney or one of the parties,” said Jordan.

“And as hard as we work to make sure we make our decisions based on the rule of law, it’s difficult to fight the perception if we’re taking money from the lawyers and the parties coming into our courts, he said.”

Money and party politics are the biggest reasons Jordan wants to do away with partisan elections as a way of choosing Texas judges.

“A judge’s robe is black. It’s not blue or red. So we need to get our selection off the partisan ballot,” said Jordan.

Molberg says attorneys contributing money don’t expect favors; they just want to elect judges who know the law. And Molberg is adamantly opposed to the so-called retention system used in at least 14 states, where judges are appointed often by the legal community or the governor. Then, at the end of their terms, voters decide whether to keep the judges or get rid of them.

“The reality is a guy like me does not want a body of 12 lawyers deciding who are going to be the judges out here,” explained Molberg. “I feel a lot more comfortable if the guy who works down at the gas station is in on the deal. I don’t want the governor just saying this is who your judge is going to be. I think that is very unhealthy.”

Full Article & Source:
Texas Judges: Out of Order – Part 3

See Also:
Texas Judges: Out Of Order

Texas Judges: Out of Order – Part 2

Texas Judges: Out of Order – Part 2

August 27, 2012

Complaints about Texas judges are usually handled in secret and rarely lead to punishment. That’s what state lawmakers heard when they met to review the Texas Commission on Judicial Conduct, the agency that disciplines judges.

Today Shelley Kofler continues our series, Texas Judges- Out of Order. She takes a look at why the agency is under attack and changes the legislature may consider.

Every 12 years or so state lawmakers appointed to the Texas Sunset Commission look at the operations of a state agency and recommend changing or eliminating the agency.

But this year when the Sunset staff asked to observe disciplinary hearings for judges and look at the handling of citizen complaints, the Texas Commission on Judicial Conduct said no, that the Texas Constitution requires information about judicial proceedings be confidential.

The judicial commission’s resistance to open its meetings and records even to state officials lead to a heated confrontation in April between State Senator John Whitmire of Houston and the judicial conduct commission’s board chairman Thomas Cunningham.

“Do you have a recommendation for how we resolve this,” Whitmire asked Cunningham. “Because I promise we’ll be doing the same thing two years from now if we have to,” he added his voice growing louder with frustration.

“There are alleged conflicts of interest and biases and misconduct, and the public has nowhere to go but to turn to y’all,” Whitmire said.

“We are not here to be stonewalling. All we are doing is complying with the law as we see it,” Cunninham responded.

Citizens testified that the agency’s secrecy makes it impossible to know whether Texas’s 3,910 judges are being held accountable. Austin attorney Bennie Ray told lawmakers that even when judges are punished it’s a slap on the wrist in a closed meeting.

“There’s no way for the public or a voter to easily track a judges complain history. Judges could have a number of informal complaints and nobody would know about them,” Ray testified.

The Sunset report says the judicial commission received more than 1,100 complaints last year. Most were dismissed. A little over two dozen were sanctioned in private. Only six judges were publicly scolded and identified but they all kept their jobs.

Full Article and Source:
Texas Judges: Out of Order – Part 2

See Also:
Sunset Commission Report on Judicial Conduct

Texas Judges: Out Of Order

Texas Judges: Out Of Order

August 23, 2012

The State Integrity Investigation on government corruption gives Texas an average grade of C for holding our judges accountable. But some citizens and lawmakers who’ve tested the system say that grade is far too high.

Today KERA’s Shelley Kofler begins a series of reports: Texas Judges: “Out of Order.” She takes a look what happened when one woman complained about a judge. The woman asked us not to use her name so we’ll call her Angela.

Angela is 30, a petite, attractive, professional with a college education. A little over two years ago she broke up with her long-time boyfriend and he filed for custody of their small son. Angela says she found herself in front of a Tarrant County associate judge who criticized her for having a child without being married to the wealthy father.

“She said, ‘Well didn’t she get herself knocked up by the right guy?’ So from the very start I had concerns about the judge,” Angela explained.

Angela said the judge yelled at her on more than one occasion and nearly each court appearance brought additional comments.

“I look Hispanic, though I’m not,” Angela said as she recalled an exchange. “We were discussing a particular document in the courtroom and the judge said to me, ‘Do you speak English?’ So, I responded, ‘Yes, I do speak English.’ And she said, ‘Clearly you don’t speak English. You have to be one of the most uneducated people I have ever seen in here.’”

Full Article & Source:
Texas Judges: Out Of Order

N. Ind. judge accused of making improper comment

August 15, 2012

A northern Indiana judge says he’ll defend himself against a charge that he violated the code of judicial conduct by making an improper comment to someone applying to be a guardian.

St. Joseph County Probate Judge Peter Nemeth (NEH’-mihth) said Tuesday he’s confident he acted appropriately.

The Judicial Qualifications Commission filed a misconduct charge against Nemeth, saying he acted inappropriately during a 2011 hearing. The commission says he said then it would be improper for a woman to ask taxpayers to pay for a sign language interpreter when she “hadn’t paid taxes for several years.”

Full Article and Source:
N. Ind. judge accused of making improper comment

New Judicial Accountability Law Takes Effect in Tennessee

August 8, 2012

A recently passed law to abolish Tennessee’s judicial discipline commission and replace it with a new ethics body, and to reform the way that judges are held accountable, has taken effect.

The law creates a new Board of Judicial Conduct, replacing the Court of the Judiciary. The plan also seeks to increase legislative oversight of the judicial branch.

“The new law aims to provide transparency and fairness to both complainants and judges,” said state Sen. Mike Faulk, a Republican, according to a Chattanoogan article. “It also gives the Board a mechanism to use the new Rules of Judicial Conduct, which are nationally recognized as a model for other states, adopted by the Tennessee Supreme Court.”

Full Article and Source:
New Judicial Accountability Law Takes Effect in Tennessee