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Chief Justice Bernette Joshua Johnson recently said the Louisiana Supreme Court approved considerable revisions to Supreme Court Rule XXIII, pertaining to the Judiciary Commission of Louisiana, which became effective on July 1.
According to the Louisiana Supreme Court website, the court adopted the rule revisions after a lengthy study conducted by the Judiciary Commission beginning in 2013. The Court solicited, received and reviewed comments from judges and practitioners before making its final revision decisions.
The amendments to Rule XXIII seek to change the tone of Judiciary Commission proceedings from a “prosecutorial” nature to a “fact finding” endeavor, reinforce existing practices of the Commission, clarify certain processes regarding existing practices and include changes for stylistic and consistency purposes.
“The revisions balance the right of judges to due process with the need to improve existing commission procedures to preserve the integrity of the judiciary and to promote the public’s confidence and trust in the judicial system,” the court said.
Structurally, Rule XXIII is easier to follow, with better labeling after each article for more effective navigation and some reordering of information in regard to importance, and more gender inclusiveness, despite “the masculine gender includes the feminine gender” description in Section 2. This is where most of the stylistic changes are seen.
Some of the more considerable content changes can be found in Section 3 of the revised XXIII Rule, labeled "Complaints, Inquiries and Investigations," which puts tighter reins on judges in the event that there are complaints that are backed by enough evidence to proceed, but it also protects judges when claims are not well-supported.
For example, in Section 4, "Formal Proceedings," judges are now required to respond within 30 days of a submitted official complaint, instead of the 15 days they were initially allowed.
“The judge shall be required to plead and answer within 30 days from the date of service of a copy of the notice of hearing,” the revised rule said.
A full addition to Section 5 also creates more detailed guidelines for every person involved.
“After formal allegations are specified and a notice of hearing is provided, the judge and the commission are entitled to discovery to the extent available for civil proceedings,” the new addition to the section said. “Within 30 days after the filing of a notice of hearing, the Office of Special Counsel shall provide to the judge open-file discovery of all non-privileged information and evidence relating to the allegations contained in the notice of hearing.”
In Section 10 of the revised rule, it puts similar restrictions on response time as is required for attorneys who are questioned for misconduct.
“The failure or refusal of a judge to cooperate in an investigation, or the use of dilatory practices, frivolous or unfounded responses or arguments, or other uncooperative behavior, may be considered by the commission in determining whether or not to recommend discipline to this court and may bear on the severity of the discipline actually recommended,” the Section 10 addition said.
In section 22, one also can see additional restrictions added in terms of payment.
“A judge ordered to pay costs shall do so within 30 days of the date upon which the assessment of costs becomes final, unless a periodic payment plan has been approved by the commission,” the new addition said.
Where the previous rule had 29 sections, the most recently revised rule has 33 sections, adding Immunity to the rule.
“Members of the Judiciary Commission, duly appointed hearing officers for the commission, the chief executive officer of the commission, special counsel, commission counsel, hearing-officer counsel and members of their staffs shall be absolutely immune from civil suit for all conduct in the course of their official duties,” Section 32 of the revised rule said.
What these recent amendments reflect is a collaboration between the Judicial Committee and the judges to fairly address any complaints and offer judges the ability to prove their cases more thoroughly against accusations.