Texas Judicial Conduct Commission Slams the Door on Sunset Review, Cites Confidentiality

Categories: The Courts

gavel-judge.jpg
Who's judging the guys who judge the judges? Well, nobody, really.

That's because the legislative agency charged with evaluating other state agencies' functionality and raison d'être, the Sunset Advisory Commission, got shut out of their meetings and denied access to confidential documents.

Now, it's easy to understand the juggling act the judicial conduct commission must perform -- protecting the reputation of Texas' 3,900 judges from baseless misconduct allegations while ensuring that these arbiters of law interpret it fairly. But when the Sunset Advisory Commission -- bound to respect confidentiality -- can't get access to some of the judicial commission's most basic functions, the balance has been tipped too far in one direction.

The judicial commission isn't subject to either of the Open Meetings, Administrative Procedure or Public Information acts.

"The Commission would not allow Sunset staff to attend its largely closed meetings to observe its enforcement process and barred staff from viewing the memoranda the Commission's legal counsel provides to Commission members for formulating rulings on cases. As a result, staff could not assess the Commission's primary duty," the report says.

An utter lack of transparency wasn't the only problem it found. Remember when the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear a 2007 Kentucky case arguing that the state's three-drug lethal injection protocol violated a constitutional prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment? A convicted killer here in Texas was set to be executed that night, and wanted to file an appeal based on the Supreme Court's decision. Texas' top criminal judge Sharon Keller refused to keep the Court of Criminal Appeals open past 5 p.m. that night. It was the judicial conduct commission who issued a public warning to Keller.

That warning was overturned because a court of review found that, following an open, formal hearing, the commission has limited options: It can make a recommendation for removal, censure the judge or dismiss the complaint entirely. It can't, for whatever, inscrutable reason, issue a public warning. The commission, the Sunset review found, is utterly handcuffed and less likely to hold formal judicial misconduct hearings on issues of "public import."

In fact, judges are privately warned or sanctioned about 79 percent of the time. Only 21 percent of these actions are made public. Over the last 10 years, we've had 12 open, formal hearings on judicial misconduct, and two censures.

But the rules governing the judicial commission are designed in such a way that nothing less than an amendment to the Texas Constitution can change the way it conducts business. And that's one of the Sunset review's recommendations.


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23 comments
Cankey222
Cankey222

Has Sunset ever investigated Thrs two Texas judges? Magistre Judge Renee Tolliver or Federal Jusge Reed O'Connor? I'm aware of many instances of misconduct by both of them. I wonder if they will ever be held accountable?

Zena Crenshaw Logal
Zena Crenshaw Logal

Paul, cutting and pasting portions of websites and online comments are probably not the best remedies for perceived "smoke and mirrors".  Also, you may want to closely review the extensive guidance available online on the reporting and disclosure obligations of nonprofit organizations.  As my C.V. indicates, I have been legal counsel for and/or an administrator of multiple nonprofit groups:  http://works.bepress.com/zena_...  Thanks for your interest.

Paul
Paul

I went out and looked at the NFOJA website.  There is no section "about us" but lots of information on how to moderate discussions. And of course badges for your website.

Zena, where does the funding fro NFOJA come from?

Zena Crenshaw Logal
Zena Crenshaw Logal

Any judicial reform strategy that doesn't involve meaningful citizen oversight is more a reshuffling of power than judicial reform. National Forum On Judicial Accountability (NFOJA) is a legislative initiative to vest randomly selected, trained, and rotating panels of private citizens with responsibility for state judicial disciplinary processes.  I am a NFOJA Co-Administrator. 

NFOJA launched in 2009 and has grown to approximately 1400 members, spread among three (3) online networks with the main network at http://50states.ning.com               Rather than judicial misconduct or public corruption, NFOJA focuses on restoring the balance of power between America’s judiciary and its sovereign citizens.  Yet it recognizes and advocates the need to encourage, protect, and help vindicate judges and lawyers who expose judicial misconduct and corruption.  NFOJA strives to get past debates on judicial integrity with workable solutions to help ensure America’s judiciary is unbiased, remains faithful to the Constitution, and follows the rule of law.

Chris Danger
Chris Danger

Its another fine example of whats wrong w/ Texas government. 

WatchDog
WatchDog

Has Judge Reed O'Conner been a subject of any these actions?

Zena Crenshaw Logal
Zena Crenshaw Logal

Paul, my reply to your initial response has yet to be posted.  This is probably not the best venue for us to have a detailed exchange about NFOJA.  Feel free to email c/o contactus at njcdlp dot org

p.s.  Rather than an "about us" section, NFOJA's main website has a "Learning Center" which provides links to NFOJA's Reform Overview, Proposed Model Legislation, and Proposed Judicial Whistleblower Protection. 

Ed D.
Ed D.

Does your group recognize that the judiciary is a co-equal branch of government with the legislative and executive branches?

Paul
Paul

 That sounds wonderful Zena, but who is NFOJA, and how does one join NFOJA?

How will these "private citizens" be selected?

Or are we just headed towards another special interest group who wants to impose their own notion of "judicial integrity with workable solutions to help ensure America’s judiciary is unbiased, remains faithful to the Constitution, and follows the rule of law."?

What you have described in your closing paragraph is no different than any other special interest group that I have heard of.

Sorry to sound so cynical, but these days politics is about power and control for those who hold it and exercise it.  The blather about returning power to the citizens is just that these days, so much blather.

informed citizen
informed citizen

Uh, no. Reed O'Connor is a federal judge. The State Commission on Judicial Conduct has no authority over a federal judge.

Paul
Paul

 Thanks Zena --

The question still stands, where does NFOJA get its funding?

and,

I still think it odd that your website has nothing about the history or background of NFOJA.

Staff Iran-Conoco
Staff Iran-Conoco

In fact, the Judicial Branch (JB) is not co-equal with the Executive Branch (EB) and the Legislative Branch (LB) because LB judges are not subject to citizen approval before  assume jobs opining as to how "the law" applies to the specific facts in the  cases they decide. Although in some states like Texas, state judges are elected, judge candidates, usually lawyers for whom a $150,000 per year job is more lucrative working as a lawyer,  are highly susceptible to bribe/extortion offers/threats of getting the job in exchange for their honest services fraud on behalf well-monied members of the lawyers' union, a pseudo-government corporation called the State Bar of Texas (SBoT) that is also scheduled for sunset in 2017. The modus operandi of deferring bribe payments to judges until after thejudge leaves the bench and has completed many years of honest services fraudagainst the State of Texas that benefited of lawyers having cases before them was exposed recently by the indictments of Texas 404th District Court Judge Abel Corral Limas and two other lawyers caught by the FBI in a RICO bribery-fraud conspiracy (USDC-TXSD, Case 1:11-cr-00296).

The state and federal EB law enforcement agencies, including the State Commission on Judicial Conduct, the Attorney General's Office and the US Attorneys Offices, that are responsible for policing JB judges' corruption,  are managed by members of the same SBoT union who dream to someday work at a lawyer company whose clients, usually large insurance corporations, that can afford to pay the unconscionable fees touted in the March 13, 2012 Dallas Morning News article "Few lawyers can charge $1,000 an hour, the the number is growing."  The consequence is an “administrative capture” of EB law enforcement agencies and JB judges that are dependent, not independent, upon the monied-interests to whom they owe their jobs and who provide them protection from law enforcement.

Zena Crenshaw Logal
Zena Crenshaw Logal

For sure, NFOJA recognizes that the judiciary is a co-equal branch of government.  Our report on a recent symposium we co-sponsored at the University of Baltimore notes:  "In addition to public trust, sufficient transparency, awareness, and education with regard to America’s judiciary should help preserve the country’s execution of democracy and functioning as a republic through three (3) branches of government; its corresponding separation of powers; and its commitment to the rule of law."

Zena Crenshaw Logal
Zena Crenshaw Logal

Paul, I’m encouraged that you’re “(s)orry to sound so cynical”.  At least you’re not overcome with cynicism as so many people seem to be ;-) 

You can join NFOJA (National Forum On Judicial Accountability) through one or more of its online networks, all of which are accessible via http://50states.ning.com

NFOJA staunchly supports judicial independence.  Last October, NFOJA co-sponsored a symposium on the courts at the University of Baltimore.  The report on that gathering notes that:  “(e)ven widespread populace sentiment can be the antithesis of rights reserved to ‘the people’.  So the struggle at hand is not between elites and ordinary people; judges and litigants.  Instead, (we challenge) any and all subversions of ‘the people’ through exercise of judicial power.”    I’ve started research on the U.S. Constitution’s Tenth Amendment, which I think is an underused shield against judicial activism claims.  Of course I also think that Amendment and the power it reserves to “the people”  (power that extends to all Americans; not just the most vocal or politically organized) is an underused basis for judicial activism claims.

NFOJA promotes model legislation titled “The Citizens’ Panel On Judicial Misconduct Act”.  Participating citizens are randomly selected through voter registrations.    The foundation for our advocacy is carefully considered.  An academic publisher has agreed to publish our referenced University of Baltimore report as a nonfiction book.  However, I can provide you a current version of the report if you request it via contactus at njcdlp dot org 

Also, you can learn more about the foundation of NFOJA’s advocacy by visiting http://www.njcdlp.org/Forum.ht...  

Thanks for your interest!

Staff Iran-Conoco
Staff Iran-Conoco

Complaints about Judge Reed O'Conner should be directed to the Judicial Council of the Fifth Circuit. Procedures for doing this can be found on the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit website http://www.ca5.uscourts.gov/Ju... for procedures to do this.

Such a complaint began a process that eventually resulted in the impeachment of US District Court Judge B. Thomas Porteous last year. See http://www.ca5.uscourts.gov/Ju....

Zena Crenshaw Logal
Zena Crenshaw Logal

Paul, as my replies to you keep getting flagged for review (and then never posted), I commented about IRS reporting and disclosure requirements separately as well as your perceived smoke and mirrors.

Zena Crenshaw Logal
Zena Crenshaw Logal

Paul, cutting and pasting portions of websites and online comments are probably not the best remedies for perceived "smoke and mirrors".  Also, it may help for you to closely review the extensive guidance available online on the federal reporting and disclosure obligations of nonprofit organizations.  As my C.V., indicates, I have been legal counsel for and/or an administrator of multiple nonprofit organizations:  http://works.bepress.com/zena_...  Thanks for your interest!

Paul
Paul

 Just so that everyone can see your reply about funding, I am quoting from your link:

"As indicated on its site, NFOJA is sponsored by National Judicial Conduct and Disability Law Project, Inc. (NJCDLP). NJCDLP is a publicly funded, nonprofit corporation, organized under the laws of the State of Indiana. NJCDLP does not have federal tax exemption; hence, we do not make a list of its donors available to the general public.

I am not including links in this reply because they may have triggered moderation of my initial reply to your comments — which reply has yet to be posted. I indicated in that initial reply that:"

I'm sorry Zena, but it seems as if you are hiding something.  If the NJCDLP is a nonprofit corporation, it does have to file a Form 990 with the IRS and there would also be a letter of determination from the IRS that this organization does qualify as a nonprofit organization.

I don't think that you can claim to be nonprofit yet not have a federal exemption.

So why do you not want to make your donor's names public?

I think have had enough of the smoke and mirrors Zena.

Paul
Paul

Zena, it is a very simple question.  Why is it that hard to answer?

Is your organization a 501c3 or 501b3 organization?

Is your organization a PAC?

Do you file a Form 990 with the IRS?

In which state is your organization organized or incorporated?

Zena, when do you plan to tell us about your affiliation with ACORN? Not that I have a problem with that ...

Zena Crenshaw Logal
Zena Crenshaw Logal

Paul, NFOJA began with a 2008 "Citizens' Forum On Judicial Accountability", conducted on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. at the Stewart Mott House.  Links to that event, related details, and the corresponding panel report are all accessible via NFOJA's Learning Center.  Moreover, my invitation still stands for you to request more details via email.  My longer replies to your comments are moderated and have yet to be posted.   

Zena Crenshaw Logal
Zena Crenshaw Logal

Paul, NFOJA began with a 2008 "Citizens' Forum On Judicial Accountability", conducted on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. at the Stewart Mott House.  Links to that event, related details, and the corresponding panel report are all accessible via NFOJA's Learning Center.  Moreover, my invitation still stands for you to request more details via email.   As indicated on its site, NFOJA is sponsored by National Judicial Conduct and Disability Law Project, Inc. (NJCDLP).  NJCDLP is a publicly funded, nonprofit corporation, organized under the laws of the State of Indiana.  NJCDLP does not have federal tax exemption; hence, we do not make a list of its donors available to the general public. I am not including links in this reply because they may have triggered moderation of my initial reply to your comments -- which reply has yet to be posted.  I indicated in that initial reply that:  NFOJA staunchly supports judicial independence.   Last October, NFOJA co-sponsored a symposium on the courts at the University of Baltimore.  The report on that gathering notes that:  “(e)ven widespread populace sentiment can be the antithesis of rights reserved to ‘the people’.  So the struggle at hand is not between elites and ordinary people; judges and litigants.  Instead, (we challenge) any and all subversions of ‘the people’ through exercise of judicial power.”    

I’ve started research on the U.S. Constitution’s Tenth Amendment, which I think is an underused shield against judicial activism claims.  Of course I also think that Amendment and the power it reserves to “the people”  (power that extends to all Americans; not just the most vocal or politically organized) is an underused basis for judicial activism claims.

NFOJA promotes model legislation titled “The Citizens’ Panel On Judicial Misconduct Act”.  Participating citizens are randomly selected through voter registrations.    

The foundation for our advocacy is carefully considered.  An academic publisher has agreed to publish our referenced University of Baltimore report as a nonfiction book.  However, I can provide you a current version of the report if you request it via contactus at njcdlp dot org

Zena Crenshaw Logal
Zena Crenshaw Logal

Paul, NFOJA began with a 2008 "Citizens' Forum On Judicial Accountability", conducted on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. at the Stewart Mott House.  Links to that event, related details, and the corresponding panel report are all accessible via NFOJA's Learning Center.  Moreover, my invitation still stands for you to request more details via email. 

As indicated on its site, NFOJA is sponsored by National Judicial Conduct and Disability Law Project, Inc. (NJCDLP).  NJCDLP is a publicly funded, nonprofit corporation, organized under the laws of the State of Indiana.  NJCDLP does not have federal tax exemption; hence, we do not make a list of its donors available to the general public.

I am not including links in this reply because they may have triggered moderation of my initial reply to your comments -- which reply has yet to be posted.  I indicated in that initial reply that:

NFOJA staunchly supports judicial independence. 

Last October, NFOJA co-sponsored a symposium on the courts at the University of Baltimore.  The report on that gathering notes that:  “(e)ven widespread populace sentiment can be the antithesis of rights reserved to ‘the people’.  So the struggle at hand is not between elites and ordinary people; judges and litigants.  Instead, (we challenge) any and all subversions of ‘the people’ through exercise of judicial power.”    

I’ve started research on the U.S. Constitution’s Tenth Amendment, which I think is an underused shield against judicial activism claims.  Of course I also think that Amendment and the power it reserves to “the people”  (power that extends to all Americans; not just the most vocal or politically organized) is an underused basis for judicial activism claims.

NFOJA promotes model legislation titled “The Citizens’ Panel On Judicial Misconduct Act”.  Participating citizens are randomly selected through voter registrations. The current version of our proposed legislation is accessible via NFOJA's website.    

The foundation for our advocacy is carefully considered.  An academic publisher has agreed to publish our referenced University of Baltimore report as a nonfiction book.  However, I can provide you a current version of the report if you request it via contactus at njcdlp dot org 

Thanks for your interest.

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