This month saw the release of the Sunset Advisory Commission's Staff Report on the State Commission on Judicial Conduct.
According to its website, the Sunset Advisory Commission was [created in 1977 by the Texas Legislature]:
“to identify and eliminate waste, duplication, and inefficiency in government agencies. The 12-member Commission is a legislative body that reviews the policies and programs of more than 150 government agencies every 12 years. The Commission questions the need for each agency, looks for potential duplication of other public services or programs, and considers new and innovative changes to improve each agency's operations and activities. The Commission seeks public input through hearings on every agency under Sunset review and recommends actions on each agency to the full Legislature. In most cases, agencies under Sunset review are automatically abolished unless legislation is enacted to continue them.”
The State Commission on Judicial Conduct (SCJC) falls into the group of agencies subject to Sunset review. By its own terms, the State Commission on Judicial Conduct is “responsible for investigating allegations of judicial misconduct or judicial disability, and for disciplining judges.”
What did the report find?In its report, the Sunset Commission repeatedly emphasized the lack of transparency at the SCJC as frustrating its review. The Sunset Commission, however, identified three issues:
1. The Texas Constitution Limits the Commission's Options to Hear Major Cases in Open Proceedings.
2. Inconsistencies Between Its Statute and Rules Create the Potential for Litigation and Inefficiencies in the Commission's Operation.
3. Lack of Access to Key Meetings and Records Limits Sunset's Ability to Fully Assess the Commission's Oversight of Judges
The Sunset Commission made the following recommendations:
1. Constitutional Amendment: Authorize the Commission to use its full range of sanctions following formal proceedings. (as to Issue 1)
2. Change in Statute: Authorize a Court of Review to hear appeals of sanctions following formal proceedings, in the same manner as it hears appeals of censures. (as to Issue 1)
3. Change in Statute: Require the Commission on Judicial Conduct to report to the Supreme Court as needed on suggested changes to update its procedural rules. (as to Issue 2)
4. Change in Statute: Require the Commission to provide Sunset staff with access to observe its closed meetings and review its confidential records to ensure a complete and thorough evaluation of the Commission's activities. (as to Issue 3)
5. Review the Commission in six years, rather than the standard 12 year period. (as to Issue 3)
6. Maintain in law the requirement for the Commission to distribute an annual report on its activities to protect the public from judicial misconduct. (as to Issue 3)
The full text of the Sunset Advisory Commission's Report can be viewed here.
The text of the SCJC's response to the report may be viewed here.