Secrecy of Texas’ panel policing judges examined


David Swingle’s complaint about a judge last year was one of 1,119 filed with the State Commission on Judicial Conduct. His case is outlined in the 6 pages he submitted to the commission, pages that will be most likely end up reviewed by the body’s 13-member board.

Those pages are not public as the commission is governed by judicial law with its own constitutional provisions. Even if the judge in question is sanctioned, as 3 percent of those accused of wrongdoing were last year, chances are that the meeting at which the merits of the case are discussed will be closed to the public.

In many cases, the name of the judge is withheld even when some culpability is found. Those cases are released by naming the offense but not the offender.

KERA in Dallas today offers its second part in a series on the commission, which came to the attention of state lawmakers when it refused to cooperate with a review by the state’s Sunset Advisory Commission earlier this year.

While most other states hold disciplinary meetings that are closed to the public, the idea that the sunset commission – charged with determining the efficacy of state government operations – would be denied access to meetings and records set off some alarms.

The sunset commission issued a caustic review of the situation, which led to a contentious meeting at the statehouse, which then led to a letter from the commission to the state Attorney General’s office, asking for a ruling that might allow the commission to review the records it seeks.

In the KERA series – first part here - Seana Willing, who is paid $110,000 a year as executive director of the judicial conduct commission, said that proceedings are cloaked because of the high number of “frivolous complaints.”

“Frankly, from my experience if we open this process up and let the public see what’s been filed against the judges they would come to the same realization and recognition I have, and that is we get a lot of frivolous complaints. And there are a lot of really good, honest, hard-working judges in this state. And the ones that aren’t, when they come to our attention, they’re taken care of.”

States have varying procedures for fielding judicial complaints, which are outlined here at the site of the American Judicature Society.

Contact Steve Miller at 832-303-9420 or

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