Election season draws near. How can we possibly choose between judicial candidates when we know absolutely nothing about them?
That’s a serious question, not a rhetorical one.
Self-aggrandizing write-ups in the Voter’s Guide tell us absolutely nothing about past job performance of the judicial candidates. It’s the Naked Emperor in the room — a system whereby voters are expected to make informed choices with no transparency as to the candidates who seek our vote, and, in fact, that information is intentionally kept from us such that we cannot make an informed decision.
This is the best we can offer? That WAS a rhetorical question.
There is a solution, and California is already on its way to solving the problem. Washington State needs to be, dare say, more like California.
It is past time for an audit of Washington State’s Commission on Judicial Conduct — the oversight committee tasked with fielding and investigating complaints against judges. In 2016, the California legislature ordered an audit of their CJC — shockingly, in itself, the first ever in the Nation and in their State — and the results released a few months ago were troubling. More than one third of the complaints alleging serious wrong-doing against judges were not even investigated, which led the auditors to conclude that judges have become emboldened in their misconduct. Judges know they are untouchable.
The wagons are circling and we all know it. That is not a system built for success.
My colleagues on the Board of Directors at Family Court Reform USA (FCRU) have spoken with the CJC leadership regarding the need for an audit. Needless to say, it was met with high resistance. That alone is suspicious. Officials at the CJC told FCRU that they believe most complaints against judges are submitted by disgruntled litigants. We were asked not to get the Legislature involved. Really?
This attitude is scary, if not downright negligent. Where is the objectivity that must be inherent in the process? If the beginning attitude is one laying blame on the disgruntled litigant, why even have a CJC to begin with? They’re apparently only going through the motions, having already determined that there is no wrong-doing, that the wrong-doing is on the part of the litigant whom the CJC has determined to be at fault before the process even starts.
And we pay these people for their efforts? That was rhetorical, too.
No other candidate except a judicial candidate is afforded this degree of protection to prevent the voter from having the necessary information to make an informed decision. None.
It would be funny, were it not terribly tyrannical. “I think the first duty of society is justice, “ wrote Alexander Hamilton, one of America’s Founding Fathers. How can we have a society dispensing justice when the very individuals dispensing justice — judges — have no oversight, are immune from prosecution and have extraordinary power to do as they please, how they please, with no oversight?
This is not a transparent system and we are not ok.
“All the rights secured to the citizens under the Constitution are worth nothing, and a mere bubble, except guaranteed to them by an independent and virtuous judiciary,” wrote Andrew Jackson, statesman, war hero and seventh President of the United States. Without justice — without a system that enforces laws by an honest judiciary kept honest by an oversight commission with integrity — everything else fails.
We cannot have judges evaluating judges and lawyers evaluating other lawyers and expect any integrity in that process.
Legislators don’t want to touch the current system because who do we think contributes greatly to their reelection coffers and puts them in office? Lawyers, law firms, judges and the Bar. Business as usual. This is not a popular issue with the Legislature, and we all know why. Follow the money trail.
Most individuals running for office have a history of service that voters can evaluate and determine whether it meets the criteria the voter seeks in an elected official. The CJC releases nothing regarding complaints against judges, what those complaints are, or whether there are any trends in those complaints against specific judges.
“Court watching” has become a hot topic in jurisdictions across the country. Court watchers are volunteers who show up in the courtrooms of highly suspicious judges to write and submit sworn affidavits of what they observe in that courtroom — private citizens doing the job of the oversight commissions that refuse to do their jobs, to monitor judges who everyone knows are operating off the rails. Some jurisdictions, like Texas and Arizona, have formal court watching programs already in place. Other jurisdictions have informal programs where litigants hit various social media sites pleading for a watcher to come to their trial before a judge who has already shown to be troublesome. The pleas are heartbreaking.
Think about this: private citizens are monitoring the actions of our judiciary because the system has lost the trust and respect of the American people. That is tyranny.
So how do we choose our judges in the upcoming elections? We tell Olympia we have seen the naked emperor and we demand to know what is taking place behind closed doors at the Commission on Judicial Conduct. We have more wagons than they do. Let’s start circling in protest.
Call your representatives today and simply state: “I am a voter in the State of Washington. The state judicial oversight committee, the CJC, is withholding information regarding serious complaints of corruption and bias made against judges, and I cannot make an informed voting decision. I demand the Legislature order an audit of the Commission on Judicial Conduct just as California did in 2016, and bring transparency back to our system of justice. We really have no justice without it. My vote for you depends on your support of this audit.”
Otherwise, vote by choosing the prettiest picture or join hundreds who cast write-ins for Mickey Mouse. Yes, that is happening. And who can blame us?
That was rhetorical.
Roberta Tester, J.D., B.J.
Director of Legal Affairs
ParentaLink/Family Court Reform USA