Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Ethics, NEPA Style

In perusing the NEPA "newspapers", so-called, for my rant about the inept response in dem parts to the recent snow storm, another item attracted my attention.

On Sunday past, a state superior court judge was the feature speaker at a local Republican Party conclave. The judge's speech was a passionate statement of support for the racist Hazleton immigration ordinance and its bigoted Mayor; not to be content, the judge also declared that the first amendment ought be rescinded for those who don't live in Hazleton: “I don’t think that the debate about the Hazleton ordinance should be allowed to be set by people who are not from the area". Yeah, well, anyway. That the judge, a Hazleton resident, a Republican, had such views isn't terribly surprising.

What caught my attention is that he was expressing them, for a political organization, even whilst a legal challenge to the ordinance was underway. The local newspaper said that the judge "prefaced his remarks by saying that the judicial code of ethics prevented him from speaking on the court case involving Hazleton’s Illegal Immigration Relief Act, he defended city Mayor Louis Barletta and council members as honorable people who shouldn't’t be berated by outsiders."

Indeed. Actually, that's not exactly what the Code of Judicial Conduct says. And if the state of journalism in NEPA wasn't as pathetic as it is, a real reporter would have known that -- or at least would have looked it up -- and called the judge on it. Let us begin with the first, informing Canon of that Code:
An independent and honorable judiciary is indispensable to justice in our society. Judges should participate in establishing, maintaining, and enforcing, and should themselves observe, high standards of conduct so that the integrity and independence of the judiciary may be preserved. The provisions of this Code should be construed and applied to further that objective.
Everything in the Code is to be read in light and supportive of Canon 1. And, what does the Code actually say about judges giving speeches and talking in public? Well, the judge got part of it correct, Canon 3 does prohibit comment about pending matters:
Judges should abstain from public comment about a pending proceeding in any court . . . .
Apparently, the judge thinks that means it is okay to talk about the issues surrounding a pending court case, as long as he disclaims that he is talking about that case. Here are some of his comments:
Stevens said local problems caused by illegal immigration include citizens having to pay for illegal immigrants’ “visits late at night to emergency rooms when no one’s around.” He also knows first-hand that law enforcement is frustrated when the federal Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement tells officers who have apprehended illegal immigrants to “let them go.”

Stevens called for “common sense” decisions in courts when dealing with illegal immigrants. He said the federal government should allow state and local police to enforce immigration laws, county district attorneys to prosecute offenders and county and state judges to hear the cases.

Stevens said the money the federal government would save could be given to local governments for enforcement. “The law will be enforced and we won’t have the strain on our city resources that we have now.”
And, to be sure, judges are encouraged to speak out on matters relating to the administration of justice, but to do so in a way that will not suggest partiality on any issue:
Judges, subject to the proper performance of their judicial duties, may engage in the following quasi-judicial activities, if in doing so they do not cast doubt on their capacity to decide impartially any issue that may come before them: A. They may speak, write, lecture, teach, and participate in other activities concerning the law, the legal system, and the administration of justice.
But none of this is proper justification for a sitting appellate court judge to wax on in support of an ordinance being challenged in court -- even if not his own court. But, more fundamentally, what the hell was the judge doing as the featured speaker at a partisan political event? Forget what he was talking about, why was he there at all? Remember Canon 1 -- it is first for a reason:
An independent and honorable judiciary is indispensable to justice in our society.
Here's the official comment to the Model Code on which the Pennsylvania Code is based, explaining the importance of Canon 1:
Deference to the judgments and rulings of courts depends upon public confidence in the integrity and independence of judges. The integrity and independence of judges depends in turn upon their acting without fear or favor. A judiciary of integrity is one in which judges are known for their probity, fairness, honesty, uprightness, and soundness of character. An independent judiciary is one free of inappropriate outside influences. Although judges should be independent, they must comply with the law, including the provisions of this Code. Public confidence in the impartiality of the judiciary is maintained by the adherence of each judge to this responsibility. Conversely, violation of this Code diminishes public confidence in the judiciary and thereby does injury to the system of government under law.
Proceeding from these first principles, consider Canon 7, o'erlooked by the judge and reporter here:
A judge . . . should not . . . make speeches for a political organization.
Regardless the topic of the speech, a sitting judge should not even be attending a Republican Party event -- much less being the featured speaker, much, much less expounding on an issue hot in the courts in NEPA.

Judges shouldn't be attending partisan, fundraising events like the local Republican Party Lincoln Day dinner.

Period.



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2 comments:

t.g. said...

Excellent point. Thanks. And good research. This is not limited to the Republicans in this area, it is a county-wide epidemic. The Luzerne County Democratic Party is also a bunch of inbred thieves.
Do not know if you caught it while perusing the Leader (a newspaper which, by the way, was purchased last year by a conglomerate that includes an LLC that refuses to name three of its members), but LAMAR advertising is putting up billboards all over NEPA, declaring "Experience Wilkes-Barre." Many of the billboards feature individuals that, as of March 8th, will be candidates (incumbent City Council members and the Mayor), and all display the name of the current Mayor. A few reporters inquired and found out LAMAR is putting up the billboards as a "community service" and is not attempting to influence any elections, and those reporters took that response at face value.
Interestingly, the Luzerne County court system shuffled its judges around the same time that these billboards started appearing, and the judge who was supposed to hear the election complaints was replaced by a judge recognized locally as a member of the Good Ol' Boy Club, essentially sending the message, "Don't complain about the billboards, you were already told they are a community service."
None of the reporters bothered to mention that the county started taxing LAMAR property tax on their billboards and LAMAR is fighting to have that decision reversed in court.
I can just hear them in the back room... "Hey, tell ya what, we'll put up a dozen billboards with photos of your candidates and call it community service. That'll save ya $2,500 a billboard... lessee... save's your campaign about $30,000. Maybe that judge will find in our favor regarding that property tax issue?"
NEPA is a corrupt wasteland, regardless of party.

A Big Fat Slob said...

Good points and info, thanks.