When Judicial Accountability Secrecy, Good Government Collide

There’s a collision involving judicial accountability in Texas, between a judicial discipline commission and a state board assigned to investigate whether state agencies are working efficiently.

The Texas State Commission on Judicial Conduct has refused to allow the Sunset Advisory Commission to examine its records,  the Austin American-Statesman reported recently. The judicial commission hears misconduct complaints against Texas judges. Now the same newspaper has editorialized that the conduct commission is off-base.

The conduct commission said “its meetings are closed to everyone, including the Sunset Commission and its staff.” But the newspaper editorial, entitled “Judges are not above the law,” didn’t go along.

The editorial asked, “How could a state agency whose operations and salaries are paid for with public money in order to oversee public officials be allowed to tell the public and even the Sunset Commission that its records are off-limits?” And it asserted, “It shouldn’t take legislation to pry the agency’s records open for a review of its efficiency, but if that’s what it takes, lawmakers shouldn’t hesitate in making this public agency to open up its books.”

In California, a different fight involving judicial accountability is playing out. The Fair Political Practices Commission decided to postpone making public the financial interest statements of elected judges, after judiciary representatives said they feared posting the personal information to the Internet would endanger them, the Los Angeles Times reported.

A Bakersfield Californian editorial commended the FPPC, saying it “has agreed to redact information deemed a security risk from the financial filings posted online, including the address of judges, and their friends and families, and may agree to omitting other revealing information. This is a reasonable concession.”

“Special risks do indeed come with the job, but personal security must be balanced with the public’s right to monitor the functions of government,” the editorial said. “The FPPC has made appropriate concessions on this and should stand firm on publishing judges’ financial disclosures online when the matter comes up again in May.”

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