By its very nature, the proposal acknowledged that abusive judges are a problem. And the source of the proposal indicates that officials near the top of the legal food chain know it's a problem.
The proposal simply called for a change that would have made it easier for the public to file complaints against judges. The Republican-dominated Alabama Supreme Court wanted no part of the change and rejected it--putting Alabama, as usual, out of step with the rest of the nation.
Who proposed the change? Why, none other than the American Bar Association. Reports the Associated Press:
A committee of the American Bar Association had recommended that Alabama do away with a rule that requires the state Judicial Inquiry Commission to notify judges when someone files a complaint against them and the commission is investigating it. The rule also requires the commission to notify the judge of the evidence that is gathered.
The ABA panel said the rules had a "chilling effect" on those filing a complaint.
"Chilling effect" is a polite way of referring to judges who retaliate against parties who file complaints against them. It's also a polite way of referring to judges who violate their oath of office by intentionally ruling against certain parties, regardless of the relevant facts and law.
The ABA proposal indicates that this is a problem in America's courtrooms. It also indicates that many parties who file complaints against judges probably have valid reasons for doing so.
After all, an honest judge--one who takes his oath of office seriously--is not going to retaliate against a party, no matter how many complaints are filed against him. But the ABA seems to be acknowledging that's not the way it always works. "Yes," the ABA seems to be saying, "we know we have corrupt, tyrannical judges in our midst, and we're trying our best to deal with them. But we don't want to try too hard because, gee, it might upset them."
The results of this Alabama episode go to the heart of the many problems with America's justice system--the law is a self-regulating profession, and it fails miserably to police itself.
First, the ABA is made up of lawyers, so that's a problem right there--lawyers watching over lawyers. Second, you give the various state supreme courts the ability to reject common-sense proposals that would help restore at least some of the public's trust in the system.
This not only calls into question the ABA's credibility, but it makes the organization look weak. The ABA should tell the Alabama Supreme Court, "Here is a rule change that will put you in step with the rest of the country--and you are going to follow it, whether you like it or not."
The ABA, apparently, doesn't have the cojones to do it. No wonder citizens don't trust the legal system.