Commission-on-commission hearing: Sunset Advisory v. Judicial Conduct (TX)


Today’s Texas Sunset Advisory Commission meeting opened with public testimony on the State Commission on Judicial Conduct.  A March 2012 staff report issued by the Sunset Advisory Commission cited three main issues:

  • The Texas Constitution Limits the Commission’s Options to Hear Major Cases in Open Proceedings.
  • Inconsistencies Between Its Statute and Rules Create the Potential for Litigation and Inefficiencies in the Commission’s Operation.
  • Lack of Access to Key Meetings and Records Limits Sunset’s Ability to Fully Assess the Commission’s Oversight of Judges.

Commission on Judicial Conduct Executive Director Seana Willing and Tom Cunningham, chair of the commission, both testified.  Willing expressed negative sentiments over press coverage characterizing her commission as resisting the Sunset staff’s review.  Cunningham said he believed the commission had been open and transparent and that “we are not here to be confrontational or obstructionist.”  He added that the commission wants to comply with the law, not be “called names” in public.

Sommer Ingram from The Dallas Morning News reported this exchange:

The judicial commission argues that the state Constitution requires them to keep certain deliberations and documents confidential, even citing attorney-client privileges. But lawmakers on the Sunset commission pushed back hard against the agency’s secrecy.

“You hide behind the Constitution,” said Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston. “If we did that we’d never get anything done in the Legislature.”

“I only know confidential to mean one thing,” shot back Tom Cunningham, chair of the judicial conduct commission. “There is no interpretation. We’re just trying to comply with the law the way we see it. If you disagree with it, then change the law.”

Read more.

A number of attorneys, including some representing criminal defense associations, also testified with comments ranging from the judicial commission should “either do their job or be abolished” to the current system being a disservice to good judges as it lets bad judges continue.

The commission’s secrecy was routinely addressed with one attorney proclaiming the current system a “perpetration of fraud on the public” and another saying “it’s a fraud to say there is remedy when there is no remedy.”

Other testimony discussed how members of the general public can be openly accused of something, they can be acquitted and then have to return to their lives and deal with the consequences.  Why, it was asked, should judges not be subjected to same scenario?

Estate of Denial® will post a link to the media archive as it becomes available.  We expect to come across several more news stories on this hearing by tomorrow.

Meanwhile, per the Sunset Commission’s web site, decisions on the State Commission on Judicial Conduct are scheduled for its June meetings.