Policing American judges

We have a serious problem in our country with judicial malfeasance issues, and it is high time that we finally address it.  The data show that thousands of judges have been charged with breaking laws or violating oaths without any consequences.  Instead, in secret proceedings that see their peers sit in judgment, too many get nothing more than a simple slap on the wrist for egregious misconducts that would seem to warrant disbarment or even jail time.

It would be naïve to think that case fixing is not going on in the state and federal courts across the country.  The Association of Certified Fraud Examiners reported on judges accepting bribes.  In another matter, several judges were implicated in an FBI investigation into case-fixing.

Another example of judicial malfeasance can be seen in Megan Fox's investigative series examining reported corruption in the Missouri Judiciary.  She began the series when news broke that a Missouri family court judge sent a weeping 14-year-old girl to live with her dad, who the girl contended was abusive, while jailing the mother.  Fox has now published nine additional posts about the problems with judges in Missouri.  The most recent one is here.

One of the most famous examples of judicial corruption was Operation Greylord, a federal sting operation in the 1980s that investigated the Chicago courts.  Ultimately, 17 judges were indicted, and 15 were convicted.  Unfortunately, since Greylord, federal sting operations have been few and far between, and judicial corruption continues.

In my work as former executive director of the Posner Center of Justice for Pro Se's and in my own personal experiences, I have seen strong evidence of malfeasance strongly suggesting case-fixing.  (See herehere, and here.)

At a fundamental level, judges should never be involved in reviewing misconduct complaints against their brethren.  It is as ludicrous as allowing a defendant's friend to sit on the jury trying the defendant's case.  The same standard should apply to judges in judicial misconduct complaints.

You can see how this system works when you look at the memorandum that Diane Wood, chief judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit (Chicago), issued on behalf of the Judicial Council of the Seventh Circuit.  It notes that an unnamed complainant filed a judicial misconduct complaint against three unnamed circuit judges who were assigned to his case.  In a short paragraph, it dismisses the matter on procedural grounds, without any reference to the merits and without identifying whether any Judicial Council members joined in the decision.

For there to be public confidence in the state and federal judiciaries, every state and every federal judicial district should have an independent inspector general who investigates complaints against judges.  The inspector general should have the authority to bring disciplinary and criminal charges if he determines that a judge has engaged in wrongful or unlawful conduct.  There are many state and federal agencies that have an office of inspector general, such as the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.  There is no reason not to create a similar position to ensure that judges live up to the standards expected of them.

As matters now stand, considering the charges that litigants have raised against judges, people should be worried that our judicial system is close to becoming dysfunctional.  We need to put into place some serious judicial reforms (here's one suggested example) to protect the people from corrupt judges.  One of the things that makes a society peaceful is a trustworthy Judiciary that honestly tries criminal and civil cases.  If people come to believe that a case outcome is determined by the party that more successfully bribes the judge, the system will collapse.

Brian Vukadinovich is the former executive director of the Posner Center of Justice for Pro Se's and author of the book Motion for Justice: I Rest My Case.

Image: Judge's gavel by rawpixel.com.

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