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Draft reforms of federal judicial discipline rules was abruptly revised on Monday, eliminating one of the proposed changes that would allow national monitoring of misconduct complaints against the nation’s nearly 900 federal judges. Without notice, the Conduct Committee of the Judicial Conference of the United States, the policy-setting arm of the judiciary, issued its third revision of the rules in an Internet posting just two weeks before the full Judicial Conference plans to vote on the plan. The latest revision eliminates the requirement that each circuit forward every federal judicial complaint to the Conduct Committee for monitoring purposes. The new version cuts a portion of Rule 8 (b), without explanation. The 66-page draft also eliminates the commentary on the purpose of the rule. Originally, the commentary said the new rule, “is necessary to enable the committee to monitor administration of the [1980 judicial discipline and disability] Act, to anticipate upcoming issues, and to carry out its new jurisdictional responsibilities.” That language has been eliminated. “What’s so striking is that a provision that the committee previously deemed ‘necessary’ has now turned out to be dispensable,” said Arthur Hellman, a professor at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law who has written about judicial misconduct and the proposed changes. “What it means is that the committee won’t begin its monitoring until after the circuit chief judge has evaluated the complaint,” he said. This may make a difference when it comes to high-profile misconduct complaints because the Conduct Committee will only see a complaint that has been “packaged by the chief judge,” he said. Judge Ralph K. Winter of the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, who heads the Conduct Committee, said the proposed change does not alter the monitoring function of the Judicial Conference’s Judicial Conduct and Disability Committee. “The most recent draft simply modified the archival system to alleviate the administrative burden of having the committee unnecessarily receive hundreds of complaints,” he said. Winter added that circuit clerks offices must make the complaints and associated records available to the committee under Rule 23(d). Dick Carelli, spokesman for the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts, deferred to Winter’s committee as to why the change was made. The draft posted at the federal judiciary’s website included four other minor changes. The proposals were released for public comment last year and the initial version of the rules released in October was revised in January and was widely expected to be the final draft for review by the Judicial Conference on March 11. ( The National Law Journal is currently running a three-part series on policing the federal bench: Feb. 18, Feb. 25 and March 3).

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