Where’s the Watchdog in this Arrangement?

Call me cynical, but how this differs from foxes guarding hens, I can’t fathom:

Scott Walker proposal would put Supreme Court in charge of Judicial Commission

And despite risking the sting of disdain from my relatively new state mates (I’ve lived in Wisconsin for 13 years, but not nearly long enough to be considered a true Wisconsinite, never mind that a great-grandmother was born and grew up here and her father, my great-great-grandfather is buried here), I’m sticking my foot in it by pointing to my former host state of California as an excellent model for all states’ judicial oversight/disciplinary bodies, even though it didn’t start out that way.

Initially, the California Commission on Judicial Performance had a majority membership of judges and was under the authority of the state’s Supreme Court.

The commission, the first in the country, was created in 1961 with a nine-member membership of five judges, two lawyers and two members of the public and powers to investigate allegations of judicial misconduct. While the commission could recommend the removal or other discipline of a judge, the Supreme Court had the final say on any such recommendation. Also, commission proceedings leading to its recommendations were held in secret.

Two decades ago, the commission underwent some radical changes. Voters approved a statewide proposition that increased commission membership to 11 of three judges, two lawyers and six public members. Other changes mandated “open hearings in all cases involving formal charges, the amendment conferred the authority for censure and removal determinations upon the commission, rather than the Supreme Court, and transferred the authority for promulgating rules governing the commission from the Judicial Council [which is chaired by the state’s Chief Justice] to the commission.”

Another plus is that commission appointments was not a monopoly held by any one person or body. Of the current 11 members, three were appointed by the state Supreme Court,  four by the governor, two by the state Assembly speaker and two by the state Senate Rules Committee.

I don’t know specifics, but during my time with the Los Angeles Superior Court from 1991-2002, my understanding was that the number of investigations increased, commission proceedings were reported in the news media, the commission took more disciplinary actions and public confidence in the commission increased significantly.

Given that experience, Wisconsin would do well to adopt something similar, although in the current climate of consolidating power and control at the center, that is about as likely as foxes being great hen house cops.

How great it would be if that other would-be watchdog, the news media, would point that out.

 

 

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