Archive for Monday, May 22, 2006

Most judges’ ethical lapses kept secret

May 22, 2006

Advertisement

— Kansas judges who improperly discuss cases, file tardy financial disclosures or make other ethical violations are allowed to escape public scrutiny because most infractions are kept private.

Just eight of the 65 cases involving violations of the Kansas Supreme Court's Code of Judicial Conduct in the past six years were made public to the voters who elect the judges. Even among the eight cases that were made public, often only scant information was released.

Judges enjoy a level of privacy not given to those in the legislative or executive branches of government, but their status is not unique to Kansas. Thirty-three other states have rules like Kansas that keep judicial conduct reports confidential.

Supporters of the rules say they allow minor infractions to be handled internally and serious ones to get the public scrutiny they deserve.

"These are minor instances of misconduct where the judges have admitted doing something wrong," said Cynthia Gray, director of the Center for Judicial Ethics in Chicago.

Evidence and testimony in judicial ethics cases are made public only if the judicial committee takes the case to a public hearing, which happens only if a judge disputes the findings. That has happened only three times in the past six years.

That shield of privacy doesn't sit well with everyone.

"When it comes to public officials, the public ought to be able to sort out what it thinks is important," said Steve Joseph, a Wichita lawyer.

The public has enjoyed such access during the recent investigation of Kansas Supreme Court Justice Lawton Nuss - under scrutiny for discussing a school finance case with lawmakers. If Nuss or the person who initiated the complaint, Chief Justice Kay McFarland, had not made it public, though, the complaint likely would have stayed secret.

There is some public oversight of judicial ethics. Four of the 14 members on the judicial qualification panel come from outside the legal world - currently, an educator, two journalists and a former lawmaker. The rest are judges, retired judges or lawyers.

Jennifer Jones, chairwoman of the judicial qualifications panel, said the commission always considers whether publishing a report would help other judges. She said the entire purpose of making findings public was to help judges improve their behavior.

"For the most part," Jones said, "I think my colleagues do a very good job judging themselves."

Comments

KsTwister 9 years ago

Now here is a truthfull article. They make you sign a gag order so they can lie. Then when you find out they lied, you can do nothing. Mediation Judges are the worst in my book.

Doug Harvey 9 years ago

If you're so concerned about corruption of public officials, why don't you do a story on where the politicians get their money and how that money controls the state government's agenda?

KsTwister 9 years ago

Many feathers, and point out their conflict of interests in the future. er...like the defense for Westar ;)

Michael Birch 9 years ago

For the most part, anyone who works in the criminal

justice system is considered to be above the law. Why,

because they see themselves as being better people

than the average citizen. They are "protected people"

who have a license to do whatever they want without

reprisal as long as its not too bad. The best thing that

we as citizens can do is vote them out of office. Take

Paula Martin for example. She is someone who has no

more business being a judge than some bum staying at

the Salvation Army. In Topeka, they have District

Attorney Robert Hecht who is indeed a credit to his

profession. Hecht specialized in "taking down" corrupt

politicians like Shawnee Co. Treasurer Rita Cline, former

Mayor Butch Felker, and Municipal Court Judge Neil

Roach. In addition, Hecht filed felony charges against

10 dirty Topeka Police Officers. I think we need a new

district attorney like Hecht. In addition, we need to rip

apart the veil of secrecy that judges and other public

officials hide behind so that the public knows what kind

of person they are voting for.

DHD

Commenting has been disabled for this item.