President Obama recently highlighted the need for criminal justice reform which complements the bipartisan effort to reform our criminal justice system. However, reforming only the criminal justice system falls short of what is needed. This country sorely needs to reform both the criminal and civil justice systems, not just the criminal side.
It makes sense to overhaul both the criminal and civil systems simultaneously. Change in this country moves at a glacial pace. People are suffering, particularly the most vulnerable, because our justice system is broken and backwards in substantial ways. Our country should stop procrastinating. We need these changes now. Here are commonsense suggestions for reforming both the criminal and civil justice systems:
• Trial and appellate judges must list connections with parties and lawyers before them. It costs nothing for this transparency. Don't you want to know if the judge on your case is golfing, jogging or dining with your opponent or his lawyer?
• Challenged judges cannot declare themselves unbiased. Motions must go to a different courthouse. It makes no sense to allow judges to judge themselves. Yes this actually happens.
• Consider abolishing judicial immunity for judges who act with malice. Giving judges immunity for malicious acts is illogical and dangerous. Police officers and other public officials who act with malice can be sued, so why immunize judges? If judges were required to pay a lawyer to defend their malicious acts, malicious rulings would diminish.
• Every order and opinion must accurately cite to the record. This must be non-negotiable. Judges and justices with agendas write orders and decisions based upon invented statements masquerading as "facts." These people work for the taxpayers and if they cannot do a simple task like accurately state facts and law, then they need to find another job.
• Appellate justices' duties should specifically include policing lower courts. Changing their duties may change their mind-set to identify judicial misconduct.
• Consider judicial term limits. It would purge the bad apples, but it would also remove great judges, which may not be beneficial.
• Any lawyer who donates or causes a donation to a judge (judge's family, family member's boss, etcetera) whom the lawyer is appearing before shall be publicly reprimanded along with the judge who knowingly accepts the money or equivalent. Do it again, disbarment.
• Abolish the ability for lawyers' groups to act as fronts for judicial patronization. Say goodbye to your annual Las Vegas junkets, judge and justice of the year awards, and fund-raising dinners for judges up for reelection. These groups benefit a handful of lawyers (you can guess the type) and represent the antithesis of justice.
• Assign Federal Mandatory Settlement Conferences to a judge or magistrate not assigned to the case. If a Mandatory Settlement Conference is before the assigned magistrate, and he or she faces a backlog of motions, there may be a personal incentive to strong-arm an unfair settlement.
• Strengthen whistle blower protection to protect anyone who reports judicial misconduct. Those who work within the justice system have a bird's eye view of what's going on. However, there is a reasonable perception that if you speak up, you will be retaliated against or harshly accused of seeking revenge. A few Ninth Circuit justices, including the one admonished for his extensive collection of sexually explicit images, sanctioned lawyers who tried to disqualify a judge (who plainly should have been disqualified). Everyone in this country should be concerned about this level of oppression--trying to silence anyone who has the courage to question a biased judge. One underpinning of Saddam Hussein's brutal regime was no one could criticize him. Through rulings, judges can display an all-pervading control of collective behavior and thought itself. Whistle blowers need our protection.
• Self-regulation is illogical. National and state tribunals should be implemented to remove incompetent judges.
• Make the judicial misconduct evaluation process more visible.
• Open public dialog about our broken justice system. Most U.S. citizens agree Congress is dysfunctional or broken. But what people don't talk about nearly as much in public forums are the types of suggestions above.
Lying and immorality, common in the United States, are now commonplace in our justice system. We must say, not in our country or you will face consequences. The judicial system must hold the line even as the rest of society goes over the cliff with immorality. We will be unable to hold the line if we do not pass laws now to make it easier to remove bad judges. We must overcome the crippling inability to remove bad judges. "And we shall overcome." An impartial judiciary is essential to the rule of law. Our justice system is worth making right!
Please visit Carla DiMare at www.injusticeblog.com.