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Proposed Constitutional Amendments
Article By: by Texas State Rep. Larry Phillips
Posted: 10/18/2013 Views: 1454 Impressions: 6023
Posted: 10/18/2013 Views: 1454 Impressions: 6023
This week's column will be the ninth and final installment in a series outlining the proposed constitutional amendments on which Texas voters will decide on November 5. These amendments were joint resolutions that were passed during the recent legislative session; however, because they change the Texas Constitution, they need state-wide voter approval before they can take effect. This information is taken from a report by the House Research Organization, a nonpartisan agency that provides information to the legislature.
Amendment No. 9 (S.J.R. 42)
The constitutional amendment relating to expanding the types of sanctions that may be assessed against a judge or justice following a formal proceeding instituted by the State Commission on Judicial Conduct.
The Texas Constitution establishes the State Commission on Judicial Conduct, which investigates allegations of misconduct against Texas judges. After its investigation, the commission has discretion to issue a private or public admonition, warning, or reprimand to a judge, as well as to require that the judge obtain additional training or education. If the commission deems it necessary, it may order formal hearings concerning the public censure, removal, or retirement of a judge or justice. The commission also may request that the Texas Supreme Court appoint certain judges or justices as masters to hear, take evidence, and report to the commission in these cases. If, after a formal hearing or having considered a report from a master, the commission finds good cause, the commission "shall issue an order of public censure or it shall recommend to a review tribunal the removal or retirement" of the judge or justice.
Proposition 9 would amend the Texas Constitution to expand the actions that the State Commission on Judicial Conduct could take after formal proceedings into judicial misconduct or after considering the record and report of a master appointed to look into judicial misconduct. In addition to its current authority after a formal hearing to issue a public censure or recommend removal or retirement of a judge, the commission could issue a public admonition, warning, or reprimand or require that the judge or justice obtain training or education.
Supporters of the amendment say Proposition 9 would ensure that the State Commission on Judicial Conduct had adequate tools to respond to allegations of alleged judicial misconduct investigated by the commission through formal, public hearings. This would allow the commission to discipline judges appropriately after all types of investigations into judicial misconduct. Since Proposition 9 would expand the options available to the commission after a formal proceeding to include an admonition, warning, reprimand, or requirement that the judge or justice obtain training or education. This would give the commission a full range of options, allowing its decision to hold a formal or informal hearing to be based on the individual case, not on the penalties or sanctions available. The commission would have discretion in choosing whether to pursue formal proceedings, so only allegations that merited a public avenue would be subject to such proceedings. Further, supporters say, public information about investigations into alleged judicial misconduct could help Texans accurately assess the judiciary and judges and whether the process was fair and effective. The availability of more information would promote transparency and help the public understand the commission's decisions. It could enhance confidence in the judiciary and judges.
Opponents say current constitutional provisions limiting the options available to the State Commission on Judicial Conduct after a formal proceeding into alleged judicial misconduct should not be expanded. Provisions restricting potential actions by the commission after a formal proceeding are appropriate because they help ensure that formal proceedings are used only in the most serious cases of alleged judicial misconduct. This helps protect the confidentiality of judges and shields them from public exposure resulting from low-level or unwarranted allegations and from those unhappy with the results of a case or from political opponents. Under the proposed amendment, the use of formal proceedings could increase to include cases that warranted lower-level actions, such as admonitions and warnings, or cases that were unfair or unsubstantiated, which could diminish the public's confidence in the judiciary and unfairly harm individual judges. The commission could feel pressure from an accuser, the media, or the public to hold formal, public proceedings in cases that did not merit them. Formal proceedings that expose all information - both supporting and refuting an allegation - to the media and the public could harm the judiciary. Exposure and debate over allegations that may turn out to be unsubstantiated or minor could taint the public's perception of a judge and the judiciary as a whole.
You can view a complete list of the proposed constitutional amendments with analyses online at www.hro.house.state.tx.us. For more information regarding these propositions, you can contact my office by writing to P.O. Box 2910, Austin, TX 78768-2910 or by emailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org. My district office phone number is (903) 891-7297.
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