Double-Standard For Judges
- J.A.I.L. News Journal
Los Angeles, California August 7, 2002
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Double-Standards For JudgesJudges Escape Ethical Punishment
By ANNE GEARAN
Associated Press Writer
August 6, 2002, 5:30 PM EDTWASHINGTON -- Federal judges usually police one another's behavior, but they rarely mete out punishment. Of 766 ethical complaints lodged last year, only one resulted in a penalty.
Federal judges have lifetime appointments, and only Congress can remove them from office. Other forms of punishment come at the discretion of fellow federal judges.
In the single case last year in which the judge was punished, the penalty was a private censure and no details -- not even the judge's name -- were released.
The system encourages lenient treatment, American University law professor Paul Rice said Tuesday.
"They have an obligation to police themselves, and of course that is the problem," he said. Judges sit on the boards that review allegations of ethical misconduct and are loath to punish a colleague, Rice said.
"We don't like burning brothers in the bond, because you don't know whose ox is going to be gored in the future," he said.
The American Bar Association plans a national commission, to be announced during the group's annual meeting this week in Washington, to examine wider ethical questions involving judges. The group's incoming president points to an erosion of public trust in the judicial system as money and politics play a growing role in the election of state judges.
Hundreds of ethical complaints are filed against federal judges each year, many of them by prisoners or others unhappy with the outcome of a case. A large portion of the complaints are frivolous and the overwhelming majority are quickly dismissed by the local chief judge or by a local judges' council, said Richard Carelli, spokesman for the federal judiciary's Washington administrative office.
During the 12 months ending in September 2001, 766 complaints were filed .... Only five were referred to a special investigative committee, and four of those were later dismissed, according to statistics compiled by the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts.
Ethical questions arose in recent, high-profile cases involving ties between the FBI and the Boston Mafia and bribery charges against now-expelled Rep. James A. Traficant.
The Boston case concerns a letter Judge Edward F. Harrington sent last week in support of retired Boston FBI Special Agent John J. Connolly Jr., who will be sentenced next month on obstruction of justice and other charges. Connolly faces up to eight years in prison for protecting his longtime mob informants, James "Whitey" Bulger and Stephen "The Rifleman" Flemmi.
The letter, on Harrington's judicial stationery, urged a fellow federal judge who will sentence Connolly to consider the former agent's years of work investigating the mob. Harrington called Connolly "a man of the highest character and ability."
Harrington withdrew the letter Monday, citing public criticism. In a second letter to sentencing Judge Joseph L. Tauro, Harrington said he had done nothing wrong but apologized for provoking a controversy.
Harrington is a former federal prosecutor and Justice Department lawyer who apparently knew of an alliance between the FBI and Boston organized crime figures from the dawn of the arrangement.
He was deputy chief of a federal organized crime task force in 1970, when his name appears on a memo urging that a mob informant named Joseph "The Animal" Barboza get at least some of the $9,000 he sought for plastic surgery to change his appearance.
Harrington was named to the federal bench by President Reagan in 1987.
Tauro apparently did not invite the Harrington letter. That may mean Harrington breached the code of conduct federal judges have set for themselves.
"A judge should be sensitive to possible abuse of the prestige of office," the code says. "A judge should not initiate the communication of information to a sentencing judge or corrections officer, but may provide to such persons information in response to a formal request."
No formal complaint is pending.
In the Traficant case, the flamboyant former congressman has repeatedly said Judge Lesley Wells should have stepped aside because her husband is a partner in a law firm with ties to a prominent witness in the case.
Wells, named to the bench by President Clinton in 1994, has said she had no reason to disqualify herself. She did move to recuse herself from the government's related case against the witness, John Cafaro.
Traficant has vowed to seek a new trial based on Wells' conduct, but he has apparently not filed a formal complaint against her. The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals would not say whether there are any pending complaints against the judge.
On the Net:
Administrative Office of the U.S. courts: http://www.uscourts.gov/adminoff.html
Copyright © 2002, The Associated Presshttp://www.newsday.com/news/nationworld/wire/sns-ap-judicial-ethics0806aug06.story?coll=sns%2Dap%2Dnationworld%2Dheadlines
Hi Ron: Traficant had over 100 complaints filed against Wells. There are being dismissed in mass. We are setting up the next round now.
Also, Wells is NOW recusing herself against Cafaro, but only after all of our complaints came in, and only AFTER the prosecutor took the Cafaro case from another judge and purposely moved it to Wells as part of a plea agreement. She is only recusing herself because she has gotten caught.Attorney Linda Kennedy
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