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A process to discipline the foibles of state judges exists in every state, beginning with the first discipline system set up by voter referendum in California in 1960. It took another 20 years to create a federal system to discipline judicial misconduct, which historically limited any punishment to impeachable offenses. Independent judicial-conduct commissions have been established by state constitution in 28 states, by statute in 15 states and the District of Columbia and by court rule in seven more, according to the American Judicature Society (AJS). Members of commissions include judges, lawyers and in some states non-lawyer public members. During 2006, state commissions removed a dozen state judges from office and another 11 judges resigned in the face of potential discipline in agreements with judicial commissions, according to AJS. Since 1980, states have removed 336 judges as a result of disciplinary proceedings. And as with federal complaints, the vast majority of claims filed against state judges are dismissed as frivolous, unfounded or related to the outcome of a case. The judicial conduct organizations generally investigate willful misconduct in office, such as failure to perform duties, conviction of a crime or habitual intemperance — a reference to abusive treatment of parties or lawyers in court. California’s transparency When it comes to judicial discipline, there is no state more open than California, according to Cynthia Gray, director of the Center for Judicial Ethics of the American Judicature Society. She said that 37 states have some portion of the process open to the public. California allowed its commission hearings to be open to the public beginning in 1988, if the subject judge requests it or the charges involve moral turpitude, corruption or dishonesty. By 1994, voters again expanded commission power and increased its size to 11 members composed of three judges, two lawyers and six private citizen appointees. In California and many other states, the informal disposition of complaints and private sanctions remains confidential, although some states summarize private sanctions in annual reports without giving the judge’s name. While New York has closed discipline hearings, the state Commission on Judicial Conduct has urged the Legislature for years to open the proceedings, which has the support of New York Chief Judge Judith Kaye. “Once formal charges are brought, we favor opening up the process. We favored open hearings 10 years ago,” said Barry Kamins, president of the Association of the Bar of the City of New York and a criminal defense lawyer at Flamhaft, Levy, Kamins, Hirsch & Rendeiro in Brooklyn, N.Y. Legislation failed 10 years ago, and there is no strong push for it now, he said. “I don’t think it will happen.” Unlike the federal system, in which a judge immediately receives a copy of a misconduct complaint, in California judges do not have access to a complaint until a review makes at least a minimal showing that the claim deserves further investigation. “Confidentiality is not just for the judges, but also for the complainant as protection of the adjudicatory process,” said Victoria Henley, director and chief counsel of the California Commission on Judicial Performance. Henley said it is possible to make a case for some confidentiality in the system. “If, right before an election, you can file a claim that a judge is a child molester and it is public, there is an argument for confidentiality,” she said. “Healthy oversight is not interfering with judicial independence,” said Peter Keane, dean of Golden Gate University School of Law in San Francisco. “To have [independence], it must include an ability to sanction judges who are out of line in courtrooms.”

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