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J.A.I.L. 4 Judges-a national campaign whose acronym means just what it says-recently took its first successful step in South Dakota. Under a proposed constitutional amendment in the Mount Rushmore State, judges could be jailed if a special grand jury chooses to strip them of their immunity and indict them for abusing their power. Abuse of power under the Judicial Accountability Initiative Law (JAIL) would include violating due process, disregarding material facts and unreasonable delay of a case. An abuse of eminent domain would qualify, as would the Florida judge’s decision that allowed Terri Schiavo to die, according to the JAIL Web site at www.jail4judges.org. The amendment will appear on the South Dakota ballot in November 2006, if 33,456 of the 46,800 signatures JAIL turned in are deemed valid, said Chad Heinrich, deputy secretary of state. “The idea is that judges are out of control,” said JAIL Assistant Director Gary Zerman, a Valencia, Calif., solo practitioner. “The other two branches have put judicial accountability in the hands of judges or their cronies.” That’s ridiculous, said State Bar of South Dakota Executive Director Tom Barnett. “It’s a devious attack on both our criminal and civil justice system,” he said. “It throws out summary judgment, which is how we get rid of frivolous cases.” He added that a convicted defendant, a prosecutor and a victim could each file a complaint with the special grand jury alleging judicial misconduct for sentencing wrongfully. True, said Zerman, as long as each had exhausted his current remedies and was still not satisfied. But why South Dakota? “The South Dakota Constitution provided an opportunity to stop in South Dakota what is happening in the rest of the country before it happens there,” said Zerman. “[And] we “got a good sponsor there.” That sponsor was Tea, S.D., manufacturer William Stegmeier. He said he donated sufficient funds to allow the campaign to hire professional signature gatherers, but refused to say how much he had contributed. The first financial disclosure report is not due to be filed with the state until July 2006. The 13-member special grand jury could strip a judge of both civil and criminal immunity. The salaried special grand jurors, if the amendment qualifies and passes, would have the power to “retain non-governmental advisors, special prosecutors, and investigators.” The grand jury could consider civil complaints only after a complainant had exhausted all state judicial remedies. It could consider criminal complaints against judges only if the state had declined to prosecute. The South Dakota Constitution provides for a judicial qualification commission that hears ethical complaints against judges. It has seven members-two laypeople, three lawyers and two judges. JAIL has affiliates in every state. It has failed in three attempts to get similar initiatives on California ballots. Oregon, Utah or Nevada could be next, said Zerman.

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