The Texas Commission on Judicial Conduct is charged with investigating judges accused of wrongdoing and meting out sanctions. But a good portion of what they do and the cases they hear are never made public. The Commission claims they do not have to share the information, and without anyone telling them otherwise, their secret proceedings will continue.
According to the Statesman, the Commission is small, with only 14 employees, consisting of four attorneys and three investigators. The New York Commission on Judicial Conduct, on the other hand, has 49 employees. In California, the Commission employs 16 attorneys.
These employees are tasked with investigating all claims of judicial misconduct. In 2011, there were about 1,200 complaints filed with the commission. Most are dismissed, for one secretive reason or another, and only about 6% result in discipline.
The Commission itself, who hears the cases and determines what, if anything, should be done, meets three days a week, every other month. They are not paid for their services and they admittedly have a lot to cover in a short three day time period.
The proceedings before the Commission are not bound by the same rules as a courtroom. They can invite the accused to testify, or invite witnesses, but they don’t have to. One judge who was at their mercy said that the Commission often has evidence that it doesn’t tell the accused judge about until they are present at the Commission hearing.
The Commission does not have the power to remove a judge from the bench. They can suspend a judge in rare circumstances. However, they do have other penalties at their disposal. These include reprimands, censures, and fines. Also, they may ask a judge to resign rather than have their name handed over to the state Supreme Court for possible removal.
Nearly 2/3 of the 190 sanctions that the Commission has issued in the past four years are kept secret. While names are released, we do not know their offense or how the offense was handled. This, many say, allows the Commission to act in a sort of vigilante justice, with no checks or balances in place to ensure they are acting fairly.
There are numerous allegations from judges where they were penalized with a very heavy hand and others, found to have more serious violations, are let off with little more than a slap on the wrist. But the Commission maintains it has a right to handle the cases as they see fit, without any input from the legislature or the public.
Fortunately, these same closed-door proceedings don’t apply to criminal cases. When things are done in secret, it’s often because there is something to hide. Fair and open courtrooms ensure your rights are protected.
When you are accused of a criminal offense, you have rights. Your attorney is there to help ensure those rights are protected. If you are charged with a crime, contact us today to discuss how we might be able to help.