FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
March 22, 2001
AUSTIN, TX--On Wednesday, March 21, 2001, the full Senate approved Senate Bill 303, the Sunset Bill regarding the State Commission on Judicial Conduct, by state Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr., D-Brownsville, with provisions that enable complainants to play a more active role in the complaint resolution process and allow the Commission to better oversee judicial conduct.
"During the course of our investigation, the Sunset Advisory Commission on which I serve, pin-pointed the need to better inform the public about the complaint resolution process," said Sen. Lucio. "It became very clear that people didn't know what the Commission on Judicial Conduct does or even how to file a complaint against a judge."
The Commission on Judicial Conduct, created by constitutional amendment in 1965, has often been seen as inefficient in overseeing the 3,450 judges and judicial officers in the state of Texas. SB 303 grants the Commission more authority to access information pertinent to an investigation and requires it to provide feedback to judicial schools in order to prevent common types of misconduct. It also requires the Commission to better inform the public about its duties and actions.
SB 303 primarily contains the following provisions that:
Require the Commission to provide easily available, plain-language information to the public and judges on what constitutes judicial misconduct, and how to file a complaint. The Commission must distribute this information to people who file complaints, and must adopt a policy to better disseminate this information to the public, in the courts, and to the Judiciary.
Require the Commission to provide complainants with specific explanations of complaint dismissals.
Require the Texas Bar Journal to periodically publish judicial misconduct sanctions, rather than publishing the Commission's annual report.
Ensure that people who bring complaints against judges have the opportunity to request confidentiality.
Allow the Commission to invite complainants to appear at informal proceedings. Currently, the Commission can only request the appearance of judges at such proceedings.
Codify a complainant's right to request reconsideration of a dismissed complaint.
Require that formal hearings to discipline or remove a judge become public when the Commission files formal charges to institute the proceedings, rather than when the hearing starts.
Clarify that orders to suspend a judge and related documents shall be made public at the time they are issued.
Allow the Commission to share information with certain law enforcement departments, public officials who appoint judges to the bench, courts, and schools that provide Commission-ordered education, as necessary to protect the public interest.
Allow the Commission to obtain the criminal history of a judge under investigation, and of a complainant or witness in any Commission investigation. The general counsel of the State Bar already has the authority to receive similar information.
Require the Commission to routinely provide judicial training schools with information to help ensure that training addresses common problems resulting in sanctions and orders of additional education.
A similar bill, Senate Bill 1066, authored by Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas, was converted into an amendment to SB 303. Floor amendment one expands the definition of misconduct and provides for the compensation of special masters (persons appointed for a single case) at the same rate as district court judges.
Other provisions of the amendment include extending judicial immunity to persons employed by special counsel or appointed by the Commission to assist in an investigation; granting the authority to submit a judge to a mental examination before being asked to retire; and allowing the Commission chairman to designate a person to serve subpoenas rather than requiring a Commission member to do so. The amendment further allows the Commission to notify the State Bar if a judge is also an attorney who violates both the Commission and State Bar standards, and it also permits the Commission to suspend a judge if he or she is indicted for a felony or misdemeanor involving official misconduct.
Note: Staff member handling legislation is Ms. Cristina Nelson, legislative aide.