Don't Like How the Court Ruled? Sue the Judge, Group Says
August 28, 2005
A judge could go to jail for handing down a court ruling that someone disagreed with if an effort is successful to put the Judicial Accountability Initiative Law (J.A.I.L.) on the ballot. William Stegmeier, a Tea manufacturing company owner, is heading up the effort with support from people around the country.
At the center of their concern is a feeling that judges think they rise above the law in what the initiative's backers call a self-made doctrine of judicial immunity, he says.
So his group of about 30 volunteers, South Dakotans for Judicial Accountability, is circulating petitions across the state from the Sioux Empire Fair to the Sturgis bike rally.
They need 33,456 signatures by Nov. 7 to be on the ballot, says Kea Warne, state election supervisor.
Stegmeier estimates the group has gathered 10,000 names.
He admits there isn't yet much of a problem with the issue of judicial accountability in South Dakota "We are not known for judicial corruption that I know of. It's not a big problem like it is in states like California, Mississippi," he said.
But he says that doesn't mean the initiative isn't necessary.
"Some have the argument, 'What kind of problem are you trying to solve?' Maybe you don't have a problem, but you buy homeowner's insurance before you have a problem," Stegmeier said.
He explains the process if the initiative becomes law.
"As an example: You go to court. You are the defendant. You want to enter evidence and help your case, and the judge won't allow it. You appeal the case and lose on the grounds you think the judge acts improperly. The appellate court denies your case, and you file it with a special grand jury," Stegmeier said.
That grand jury, selected from a pool of registered voters through the Secretary of State's Office, would be seated.
"They hear the complaint. They rule whether the judge should enjoy immunity from lawsuits. If they find for you, the next step is to sue the judge. If they deny you, that's it," Stegmeier said.
The grand jury also could consider whether there is probable cause of criminal conduct by the judge.
The objective, say initiative supporters, is to fulfill their responsibility to empower the people to act when they feel they are wronged.
"That is one of the nuttiest things I have ever heard," says George Wuest, a retired Supreme Court justice from Mitchell.
"People already have the power. They elected the judges, and if they don't like them, they can throw them out," Wuest said.
Good idea, says Dr. Allen Unruh, a Sioux Falls chiropractor who supports the initiative.
"I think judges all over the country are getting out of control. Our forefathers devised a system of checks and balances, but never for judges doing what they are doing, reinterpreting the constitution and undermining the people," he said.
He says judges don't have the power to override the vote of all the people in the country.
"South Dakota will be the first to challenge Roe vs. Wade, to throw judges in jail if they violate the constitution," he said. "There will be a grand jury if they legislate from the bench."
Copyright 2005, Argus Leader
From: Argus Leader, Sioux Falls, South Dakota, August 28, 2005, http://www.argusleader.com/..., accessed August 29, 2005. David Kranz may be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org. Reprinted in accordance with the "fair use" provision of Title 17 U.S.C. § 107 for a non-profit educational purpose.