Bad news to report. And Texas Watchdog has it right: “It is at great personal risk that Texas Watchdog discloses that Attorney General Greg Abbott agrees that Texas law allows the State Commission on Judicial Conduct to operate in utter secrecy.”
Click to read the full Judicial panel may keep records secret, Texas AG says story.
And though the Austin American-Statesman often espouses a point of view with which we don’t agree, it too gets this one right:
It could well be that the delegates to the 1876 Constitutional Convention agreed that the state’s judges – who they said should be elected – were entitled to a shield of secrecy when answering complaints of misconduct. It could well be that the framers of the Texas Constitution intended to create an agency that didn’t have to disclose its workings to anyone.
Because we don’t presume to read the minds of men long since dead, we can’t say for sure that delegates didn’t have secrecy as an agenda item. What we can say is that such a cloak isn’t appropriate in today’s Texas, despite the claim by the State Commission on Judicial Conduct to the contrary.
The judicial commission’s claim was upheld in an opinion issued last week by Attorney General Greg Abbott. As the American-Statesman’s Eric Dexheimer reported, Abbott ruled that strict confidentiality rules written into the Texas Constitution shield the commission from scrutiny – whether by the public or by state auditors responsible for evaluating the efficiency of state bureaucracies.
Abbott’s ruling caps, for now, a controversy that developed when Sunset Advisory Commission auditors were denied access to the judicial commission’s meetings and records.
The 13-member State Commission on Judicial Conduct is appointed by the governor and hears complaints brought against the state’s judges behind closed doors. Sunset auditors asked to sit in on commission meetings and were denied access. When sunset commission staffers asked to see memorandums about disciplinary rulings, the answer was still “no.” Attorney-client privilege, the judicial commission staff said.
It is a setup the late Joseph Heller wrote about in his classic “Catch-22”: You can’t sit in on the meetings because they’re secret. Why are they secret? We can’t tell you that. Why not? Because it’s secret.
Open up Texas’ Catch-22 agency
December 12, 2012
Looks like the “lawyers first” mantra bore out again.
As we said before, bad news to report.