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