Louisiana Record

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Voters need to know about serious charges of judicial misconduct, law prof says

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By Zeta Cross | Sep 2, 2019


Dane Ciolino, the Alvin R. Christovich Distinguished Professor of Law at Loyola University New Orleans College of Law | school of law

A law professor said that more transparency regarding complaints made against judges is important for helping to inform voters

Complaints filed against judges in Louisiana are kept secret by design, law professor Dane Ciolino at Loyola University New Orleans College of Law told the Record, a tradition that is supposed to protect the integrity of the judiciary because many unfounded, vindictive and trivial complaints are filed against judges. He said serious charges should be treated differently. 

More transparency is needed to help the electorate figure out who the bad judges are, Ciolino said.

“Louisiana should reform its judicial discipline system to provide the public with information necessary to make informed decisions in judicial elections,” Ciolino said. 

Many frivolous complaints are made about judges, he said, and the public need not be privy to all of those. However, “the public should know when the judiciary commission has found credible evidence of judicial misconduct and what the commission and Louisiana Supreme Court subsequently did about it,” Ciolino said. 

That is not the case now.

People who file complaints are threatened with contempt of court if they do not keep their complaints secret, Ciolino said. Lawyers are not allowed to make disparaging remarks about judges - the attorney code of conduct forbids it. So how are voters supposed to know when judges are guilty of judicial misconduct? That's the problem, he said. 

The Louisiana Judiciary Commission, which is responsible for overseeing the conduct of judges, is comprised of nine members. Three are judges who are appointed to the commission by fellow judges, three members are attorneys, who are also appointed to the commission by judges, and the final three members are not lawyers, but they, too, are appointed by judges.

Ciolino, who is against having judges run for election in the first place, said there are better ways to handle judicial oversight. 

"Judicial selection should not be done through popular elections. However, if that's the way we're going to do it, we need to give the public full information about the candidates' disciplinary histories," he said. 

The way it works now, voters go to the polls without sufficient information to help them make informed decisions, he said.

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