Blogs » Man Bites Dog » State agency denies investigators access to records


"Who judges the guys who judge the judges?" Dallas Observer said it perfectly.

No one.

The Sunset Advisory Commission, the group legislatively charged with evaluating other state agencies, was blocked from access to meetings and records of the agency responsible for ... well ... judging judges, according to a report released this month.

As we near the close of Sunshine Week, which celebrates open records laws (Jessica Puente blogged about it earlier this week) the report points out an agency so secretive that even the state was shut out.

The 13-member, State Commission on Judicial Conduct, which hears misconduct complaints against Texas' 4,000 judges, told Sunset its meetings are closed to everyone, including Sunset and its staff, according to the report. As a judicial branch agency, the commission is not subject to the open meetings, administrative procedure, or public information act.

"Unlike most state agencies that must operate openly and transparently, the commission operates largely behind closed doors to protect the confidentiality of the judges it oversees, most of whom are elected officials," according to the report.

By blocking access to records and meetings, the judicial commission, in effect, prevented Sunset from determining if it operated efficiently and if its decisions and investigations concerning judges — most of whom are elected — were even were fair or impartial.

Sunset's report said balance must be maintained.

While there is a need to protect judges from open disclosure of unwarranted complaints (judges are privately sanctioned about 79 percent of the time), the public has a right to know that the process "is working fairly and effectively when judges misuse or abuse the substantial authority they have been granted."

One of Sunset's recommendations is to put the issue on the ballot. Ultimately, the only way the rules governing the judicial commission could change is by an amendment to the Texas Constitution.