Courthouse News Services reports that,
“A court administrator claims in court that a city judge fired her for testifying to the Michigan Judicial Tenure Commission about another judge, who was found guilty last week of misusing public funds.”
Story here. Just what kind of risk is taken by those who cooperate with a judicial disciplinary board, or who testify against a judge?
How can we move forward in the discipline of judges, if people (parties, lawyers, court clerks, etc.) are too afraid to complain? Too afraid to testify?
I know that there are those in Minnesota who are mindful of this issue. I also know that there are some things being tried. The reason I started this blog is to discuss the undiscussable, to hopefully blaze a trail so that it is not quite as scary for the next person who is willing to speak truth to power in the justice system.
Do we need to get serious about creating a remedy for those who complain about a judge, and then are retaliated against? Of course. In the Michigan case, the court administrator sued. That needs to be out there (that person lost her job), but we need less formal methods as well.
I have yet to hear about a judge being disciplined (or even investigated) for retaliating against a lawyer who complains about them (or their buddy judge). It’s unethical under the current Minnesota Code of Judicial Conduct. But what penalty does a judge pay for doing it?
And what about the chilling effect? Even if the individual who complains can fashion some type of relief for herself, what about all of those left in the wake, now more afraid than ever to step forward?
Like most macro changes, the challenge is in changing the culture. This always starts the same: with a few good people willing to stand up for what is right, even if it is not popular. And say, “whether or not the misconduct occurred, you have a right to complain about it. You have a right to ask that this be looked into.” This has always been the way in the law. This concept has been policed by our justice system for decades. We just need to do it in this context.
Judges play a large role in this: judges are the ones we count on in society to uphold the law even when it is unpopular. There is no place where that role is more needed, than in this.