Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.
The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
In a government by the people and for the people, it is to the people that accountability must be enforced. So says Jail4Judges, a national grassroots organization seeking to restore accountability by the judiciary.
It is no secret to anyone who has had contact with them that the courts of this country and their officers are saturated with corruption. Anyone expecting to get justice there is destined for a galling disappointment.
Michael Fox, a commissioner in Butler County, Ohio, wrote of some of his countys court system in 2003: The Domestic Relations and Juvenile Courts of Butler County foster a culture of secrecy, fear and judicial abuse that violates the most fundamental and sacred rights guaranteed by our nations Constitutionthe right of due process of its laws. Those who are most directly affected by decisions of these courtsparties to the actionsare routinely excluded from court proceedings and deliberations, told to wait outside the hearing room in a hallway while their lives, personal property, children and homes are divided up by strangers.
The world of juvenile and domestic relations is a secret world where the courts treat public scrutiny with open contempt and hostility. The pretense for this secrecy is to protect families from embarrassing disclosures about their personal and private lives. The real function, however, is to protect the court from public scrutiny.
Judge Barbara Gorman of Montgomery County, Ohio, went to the heart of the issue. She said: Public trust depends on the openness and accountability of courts and their proceedings. Access serves as a check against misconduct, ineptitude, and corruption in criminal trials and promotes public confidence that justice is being fairly administered by judges and prosecutors. Institutional integrity is at risk whenever openness yields to secrecy, no matter how well-intentioned.
Dr. Les Sachs, writer, journalist and expert on legal corruption in this country, commented: The reality is that the United States of America, which proclaims itself the land of freedom, has the most dishonest, dangerous and crooked legal system of any developed nation. Legal corruption is covering America like a blanket.
In Winnebago County, if you want a record of your court proceeding, you must hire a court stenographer, at an extremely high cost for the average citizen; the system does not provide it. And dont even try to get a copy of the rules of the court, it is top secret.
Jail4Judges is fighting back. This coming fall, in South Dakota, it will launch a ballot initiative aimed at curbing judicial abuse of the doctrine of so-called judicial immunity. The initiative will be presented for ballot positions in all the other states as well. The people have had enough.
Jail4Judges seeks to stop deliberate violation of the law; fraud or conspiracy; intentional violation of due process; disregard of material facts; judicial acts without jurisdiction; blocking the lawful conclusion of a case; and any deliberate violation of state or federal Constitutions.
Just how accountable is the civil justice system today? What protections do consumers have against unethical lawyers? Take a look at a few statistics.
According to the American Bar Association, 121,000 complaints were filed against the nations 1.2 million lawyers in 2002. Of those complaints, only 3.5 percent resulted in formal discipline, and only 1 percent led to disbarment. Some 96.5 percent of these 121,000 complaints ended with NO discipline or informal slaps on the wrist in the form of private sanctions.
One study, carried out in 50 states (including the District of Columbia), showed that lawyers make up about two-thirds of the panels adjudicating attorney discipline complaints. The same study found that in 12 states, lawyers comprise 100 percent of the discipline panels.
A national survey by the Columbia Law School revealed that two of every three Americans dont believe lawyers are even somewhat honest.
In 2003, a poll by CNN/USA Today/Gallup, found 84 percent of Americans do not believe lawyers have high ethical standards. The National Law Journal reported 69 percent of Americans think that lawyers are more focused on making money than on serving their clients.
And what about the judges? How does the public perceive the civil justice system? A study made by Justice at Stake asked, How would you rate the job being done by judges in your state? The group reported more than a third of those surveyed answered fair or poor.
The same study asked respondents how well the term independent described their judges, they answered not too well or not well at all in more than 34 percent of the cases.
Clearly the American legal system needs a good and thorough housecleaning. As Jail4Judges rightly concludes, accountability is the only solution.
They propose, through their Jail4Judges bill, to establish special grand juries to weigh the evidence in cases of complaint against a judge. Members of these juries would be ordinary Americans who have no links to other branches of government and are not members of the Bar. They would function in a case only after all other remedies have been exhausted.
These special grand juries would hold the power to strip away judicial immunity from judges who are targets of complaints of criminal acts, and they will be able to investigate, indict and initiate criminal prosecution of wayward judges.
These juries would be able to address such issues as ignored laws, ignored evidence, eminent domain abuse, confiscation of property without due process, probate fraud, secret dockets, falsifying court records, misapplication of law and other types of abuses.
That these conditions and abuses exist in Winnebago County and northern Illinois is no secret. Many have come to this newspaper with tales of mistreatment and deception at the hands of local judicial circuits.
Ohio Commissioner Fox asks: Where is the outrage? The answer: The outrage is muted by an incestuous network of insiders who are spared the crucible of public scrutiny by a system that operates behind locked doors, disciplined by a real fear of being punished if the members ever break ranks and rail against the injustice they see daily.
Lawyers in Winnebago County have told this newspaper if they go against the system, the judges and other lawyers will pound them in almost every subsequent case, whenever the slightest opportunity exists. Everyone gets in line, sooner or later.
Its up to us to change this shameful situation. For more information about how to go about it, contact www.jail4judges.org.
From the Feb. 22-28, 2006, issue