Judges Behaving Badly

Stop me if you’ve heard this before: a group of people in authority have a separate, secret, process for policing themselves.

In case you were wondering “how is it that cops can be so corrupt and incompetent and have their own secret system for meting out ‘justice’ to themselves?” It seems like a bad idea, right? It’s almost as bad an idea as having body cameras with an ‘off’ switch.

Propublica [pro] reports that judges also have a secret system and this is what it looks like:

Mine’s probably nicer. I bet the judges have those industrial gray steelcase ones.

Over the past two decades, more than 1,000 ethics complaints have been lodged against South Carolina judges who handle the state’s major cases in circuit court.

Beyond mere courtroom disputes, the complaints contain serious concerns about abuse of office, including allegations of influence peddling or judges mishandling conflicts of interest.

The number of judges punished publicly as a result: zero.

I’m tempted to shrug and say “that’s Carolina” but I’ll bet a dollar against a dozen donuts that it’s not just Carolina. All the characteristics of secret panels are on display:

The Commission on Judicial Conduct shares its work with no one – not even complainants, who receive brief letters telling them when a case has been closed. In thin annual reports, it acknowledges the number of complaints and the type of alleged offenses, but it offers no details.

Unlike in other states, including South Carolina’s neighbors, it’s nearly impossible for the public to know how seriously allegations against the state’s judges are taken.

Virginia does the scam differently: it’s judges that judge the judges.

#include <std/joke/shark_professionalcourtesy.h>

Only one other state, Virginia, allows lawmakers to elect judges.

Lawmakers filled many of the openings with their fellow legislators, including several who sat on the state Supreme Court. The high court is in charge of the bench’s ethical oversight, but it has skirted the practices of virtually every other state to stack the Commission on Judicial Conduct with judges.

Year after year, they reject any punishment of their colleagues.

I’m willing to bet that this is a bipartisan effort. I.e.: they are all corrupt, not just the sleaziest of the bunch. Let me remind you of my doctrine on these things: there are always enablers and records. In other words, while the judges may think they’re meeting in smoky rooms and letting themselves off gently, someone still scheduled the smoky room and someone else has an attendees’ list. Social actions are hard to conceal unless you’re really gung ho about eradicating the witnesses [Memo to Donald Trump: if Junior and Jared sleep with the fishes they can’t flip on ya!]

Circuit Court Judge Diane Goodstein, based in the small town of St. George about an hour from Charleston, faced a formal complaint in 2008 filed by South Carolina lawyer David Flowers. He alleged the judge colluded to award a lawyer friend exorbitant attorney’s fees that limited payouts to clients who had been sexually abused by members of the clergy.

The commission dismissed his complaint without explanation, leaving Flowers unsure what steps were taken to investigate his concerns.

#include <std/joke/best_justice_system_money_can_buy.h>

Donald Beatty, chief justice of the South Carolina Supreme Court and also a former lawmaker, in a written statement defended the state’s discipline of judges and its process for screening them upon reelection. He assured “all legitimate complaints are addressed.”

However, state Rep. Gary Clary, a retired circuit court judge, said it is inconceivable that no circuit court judge in South Carolina has committed an infraction in more than 20 years that warranted public action.

“That defies the law of probability,” he said. “You would have to say the system is built to protect judges.”

“All legitimate complaints are addressed.” <snicker> Isn’t every complaint legitimate?

Elsewhere, I offered the view that “there is no benefit to having power, unless you abuse it; therefore anyone seeking power is suspicious.” Oh, boy, right again.


  1. fusilier says

    a propos of boots:

    Recently, there was a 2:30 am shooting at a White Castle parking lot (24-hour cheapie hamberdler chain for non-Midwesterners), located very near the Rape-of-The-Taxpayer Stadium, in downtown Indianapolis. Two Indiana Appeals Court judges were the victims. They were here attending a judicial conference.

    Of course, the appropriate county sheriff (in full uniform) was interviewed for TV, having rushed up to visit his friends.

    Much handwringing has ensued.

    What nobody cares to mention is that that particular restaurant is three blocks from the stadium, but about 75 feet from The Red Garter, an eminent* and venerable Gentleman’s Show Club. Were they, perhaps, Asking For It?


    James 2:24

    *It used to be directly across Washington St. from the Statehouse, but new investment, you know….

  2. Pierce R. Butler says

    A quick hunt through the linked article leaves the impression that the only Supreme Court references involve state-level SCs.

    No doubt the federal SC deserves its own study, particularly since they seem to operate on some unwritten expectation of personal self-regulation. Obituaries for the unlamented (except for his replacement and the Senatorial shenanigans regarding same) Antonin Scalia note that he died on an complimentary excursion to a multi-thousand-dollar-per-visit hunting club in Texas; a few reports even noted that Scalia enjoyed such anonymously-endowed vacations about twice a month, year after year after year.

  3. Ketil Tveiten says

    As a European, I continue to be impressed at how rotten a system you poor colonials have managed to make for yourselves. It’s almost as if the Motherland(s) should reassert control to put your affairs in order, as you clearly can’t do it yourselves.

  4. ridana says

    #3 @Ketil Tveiten:
    Yes, the UK has been setting such a fine example for us lately…

    #4 @avalus:
    Well, it’s either elect them, appoint them, or pull random names out of a hat. Appointments don’t seem to be working all that well, as this blogpost shows. Electing them at least means you can recall them, which happens from time to time, or at least not re-elect them.

  5. brucegee1962 says

    I think that appointing is bad, but electing is worse. With appointments, the main thing you have to watch out for is corruption, but at least that’s something that you can come up with structures to address. But with elections, you have judges making decisions not based on the law, but based on “what will make me popular with the voters in my district.” That’s a lot more pernicious because there isn’t any real way to block it. I’d rather take my chances with appointment, and try to figure out a way for a non-partisan review and appeals board.

  6. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    Follow the money: Make their tax returns and all other financial statements into matters of public record.

    Not sure if it’ll help that much, but there’s an idea.

  7. says

    …or pull random names out of a hat.

    So, let’s do that. In fact, let’s remove all elections and base the entire system on drawing lots.

    It’ll make the system truly representative (statistically speaking), undermine lobbying groups and political parties, and it’ll encourage an educational system where everyone gets a good basic education, because any one of those guys could end up your next president, so you can’t afford to let people be uneducated.
    It’ll will also counteract the tendency for concentration of power, because why would you want to concentrate power in a given position, when you can’t control who’s going to get all that power next?

    Include short term limits and a rule against being re-selected for the same position twice, and I think we’ve got something. I suspect any inefficiencies will be made up for by the reduction in corruption and cronyism.

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