Strict rules written into the Texas constitution severely limit the release of information when judges in the state are disciplined, reports the Austin American-Statesman. Most reprimands meted out by the state’s Commission on Judicial Conduct, the agency charged with disciplining Texas’ approximately 3,900 judges, are kept private, with only the rough outlines of the case made public. No identifying information about the judge or his or her jurisdiction is released, and the penalty has no real impact beyond a notation in the commission’s records and the judge’s conscience.
An American-Statesman review of a decade’s worth of publicly available disciplinary records — several hundred case summaries — suggests that in some instances there is at least the appearance of uneven sanctions — cases in which judges found to have committed relatively minor infractions were punished more severely than those who committed more serious violations — or differing punishments for similar violations. “They’re very arbitrary and capricious; they just do what they want to do,” said attorney Henry Ackels. The commission says the protections are necessary to shield judges from spurious and political attacks and to protect complainants from judicial retribution. Defense lawyers, those who have filed complaints and even some judges counter that such secrecy raises questions about how the agency is policing some of the state’s most powerful public officials.