Secrecy Pervades Texas Judicial Conduct Commission

The Texas Commission on Judicial Conduct has been accused of operating under a cloud of secrecy, conducting business behind closed doors and rarely administering sanctions to judges in public. According to KERA News, this is what state legislators have argued while reviewing the commission.

Earlier this year, the Commission on Judicial Conduct rejected a request by the Texas Sunset Advisory Commission to review the agency’s records and operations (see Gavel Grab). The conduct commission declared its meetings “closed to everyone.”

In April, a heated debate ensued between State Senator John Whitmire and the commission’s board chairman Thomas Cunningham over its reluctance to open its meetings and records, the article said.

According to the Sunset agency’s recent report, most of the 1,100 complaints the judicial commission received last year were dismissed, and “only six judges were publicly scolded and identified but they all kept their jobs.” Several dozen other judges were sanctioned in private for their conduct.

State Representative Rafael Anchia argued that the judicial commission has gone too far in maintaining confidentiality.

“If you have judges who are not publicly sanctioned but are sanctioned in closed meetings it doesn’t give the public the ability to evaluate whether those judges are doing a good job,” Anchia said.

Anchia proposed putting a constitutional amendment on the ballot for the public to decide “whether these hearings and proceedings should be open to the public.”

Seana Willing, the judicial commission’s executive director, says that moving toward a more open system could be beneficial.

“Frankly, from my experience if we open this process up and let the public see what’s been filed against the judges they would come to the same realization and recognition I have and that is we get a lot of frivolous complaints. And there are a lot of really good, honest, hard-working judges in this state. And the ones that aren’t, when they come to our attention, they’re taken care of,” Willing said.

According to the article, 86% of judges who had received complaints supported the work of the agency, but 76% of citizens who complained, found the review process unsatisfactory. The Attorney General has been asked to determine whether or not legislators have a right to see more information on the judges, the article says.

The article cites research by Cindy Gray on judicial conduct commissions. Gray works with the American Judicature Society, a JAS partner organization.

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