NEW ORLEANS – Judges can break the law, too.
A law professor at Louisiana State University says provisions in the judicial code of conduct could be triggered if allegations against four Louisiana district judges are able to be proven in federal court.
The four judges, Carl Sharp, Frederic Amman, J. Wilson Rambo and Benjamin Jones, are being sued by fellow Judge Sharon Marchman in U.S. District Court for covering up an alleged payroll scheme dating to 2010, and allegedly retaliating against Marchman when she attempted to reveal it.
Marchman says the judges were protecting a clerk who Marchman had accused of fraud and document destruction.
N. Gregory Smith, a professor of law at Louisiana State University, told the Louisiana Record that, if proven to be true, the allegations would be covered under provisions in the Code of Judicial Conduct.
“If a judge actually engages in wrongdoing, the judge could be subject to discipline,” Smith said. “In particular, if a judge engages in an illegal act, the judge might be found to have violated one or more provisions.”
An example of misconduct?
“Payroll fraud, for instance,” the professor said.
Smith said three canons from the code could apply to the Marchman case.
The first canon, that a judge should uphold the integrity and independence of judiciary, is an indispensable concept in the nation’s judicial system, Smith said.
“The provisions of this code are to be construed and applied to further that objective,” Smith said. “As a necessary corollary, the judge must be protected in the exercise of judicial independence.”
Canon 2 involves a judge avoiding impropriety or the appearance of impropriety.
Canon 3 is similar, in that it requires a judge to perform his duties impartially.
“A judge shall respect and comply with the law and shall act at all times in a matter that promotes public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary,” Smith said, adding that the position carries with it “high standards of conduct” to promote independence and fairness.
He said, while Canons 1 and 2 could apply to a situation in which a judge engages in illegal conduct, Canon 3 could apply to a judge who has a supervisory responsibility over a court employee – and permits that employee to engage in job-connected illegal conduct.
“A judge shall require staff, court officials, and others, subject to the judge’s direction and control, to observe the standards of fidelity and diligence that apply to the judge and to refrain from manifesting bias or prejudice in the performance of their official duties,” Smith said.
Smith said that it is important for judges to comply with the law and to observe high standards of conduct to preserve public confidence in the judiciary.
If that’s lost, the rule of law isn’t far behind.
“As members of the public, we want to be subject to the rule of law, not subject to self-serving orders of corrupt officials,” Smith said. “If we have confidence in the judiciary, we are more apt to abide by judicial decision, even if we disagree with them. That is good for public order.”