In mid-April, the Louisiana Supreme Court announced “changes to its rules that will increase transparency and public access to judicial discipline proceedings while maintaining fairness, due process, and the orderly administration of justice.” The court voted unanimously to make three major changes:
- Hearings on allegations of judicial misconduct that have been investigated will now be public, as will the record and results of the formal proceedings.
- If a judge is admonished, any additional admonishments within a judge’s term of office (ten years for appellate court judges and six years for district court and other judges) shall now be public.
- Information will be made available about confidential non-disciplinary dispositions on the supreme court’s website and in supreme court publications.
With these changes, Louisiana joins the growing tide of states that are embracing transparency and making judicial misconduct proceedings public once the commission’s investigation finds merit in the complaints.
In IAALS’ Recommendations for Judicial Discipline Systems, we outline why transparency—along with accountability, confidentiality, and trustworthiness—is a key part of any successful judicial discipline system.
“Effective judicial discipline is an important part of a trusted and trustworthy court system. The public must know that judicial ethics and violations of the Code of Judicial Conduct are taken seriously. Absent that assurance, the system appears self-serving, protectionist, and even potentially corrupt. And it is not just the reality of the existence of effective systems that matters; it is also the appearance. A wholly effective system with no transparency and no public confidence will not suffice.”
The Louisiana Supreme Court noted that confidentiality still remains a major consideration for judges in the discipline process. Per IAALS’ recommendations, we agree that confidentiality plays an important role. A discipline commission should operate under rules that balance the need for confidentiality in the early stages of proceedings (to ensure complaints and allegations are not meritless or being used to manipulate the system of justice) with the need for transparency about investigated complaints with potential merit.
We commend Louisiana for moving toward these pillars of an effective and trusted judicial discipline system and hope additional states will follow their example.