The Judicial Accountability Amendment will be on the South Dakota November 2006 general election ballot
December 28, 2005
South Dakota Secretary of State Chris Nelson announced on December 22nd that the proposed amendment titled Judicial Accountability Initiative Law (J.A.I.L.) has the required number of signatures and will be place on the November 2006 general election ballot as Constitutional Amendment E. Signature gatherers turned in approximately 47,000 signatures, 13,000 more than what was required.
The proposed amendment, titled the Judicial Accountability Initiative Law, or "J.A.I.L.", is designed to make the judicial branch of state government answerable and accountable to an entity other than itself. The entity that this amendment creates is a Special Grand Jury, comprised of ordinary South Dakota citizens, who are empowered to hear complaints of judicial misconduct. If, after careful investigation including testimony from both the complainant and the Judge, the Special Grand Jury finds for the complainant, the "judicial immunity" from lawsuit will be set aside, thereby allowing the complainant to sue the judge for damages.
Paragraph 2. of the amendment states:
2. Immunity. No immunity shall extend to any judge of this State for any deliberate violation of law, fraud or conspiracy, intentional violation of due process of law, deliberate disregard of material facts, judicial acts without jurisdiction, blocking of a lawful conclusion of a case, or any deliberate violation of the Constitutions of South Dakota or the United States, notwithstanding Common Law, or any other contrary statute.
J.A.I.L. is intended to prevent judicial malfeasance such as willfully ignoring: laws, constitutional provisions, material evidence, due process, blocking of a remedy, and to include fraud and conspiracy, as well as other willful abuses. Once passed, the doctrine of "Judicial Immunity" will no longer shield a judge guilty of any such misconduct.
Critics connected with the judicial branch, while admitting there are clear problems with the existing legal system, including being "too heavily weighted toward incarceration," were nevertheless quick to voice their opposition to the proposed amendment.
Quoted in the December 24 Rapid City Journal, Rapid City trial lawyer Patrick Duffy said, "It is the single most insane piece of legislation ever proposed by the people of South Dakota. This contemplates some system with a self-proclaimed grand jury of lunatics that will, apparently based on nothing more than a whim and a will, drag a judge in to answer about something of which they disapprove."
"I'm one who happens to think that we hit injustice more than justice in this country," Duffy said. "But this isn't the answer. This isn't the answer by a long shot."
Also quoted in the Rapid City Journal, Sioux Falls chiropractor Allen Unruh disagreed with the critics, saying the proposal comes at a time when citizens throughout the nation are rebelling against activist judges.
"I think there is a great uproar in this country against judges who are usurping legislative authority and legislating from the bench," Unruh said. "I think this is an idea whose time has come."
It makes sense that the battle would come to South Dakota, where citizens embrace traditional American values and are likely to believe that judges should be held accountable for their actions, Unruh said. If successful here, it will spread to other states, he said.
"They're men. They're human beings. They're not infallible," Unruh said of judges. "Just like we impeach presidents when they violate their oath, nobody should be above the law, including judges."
Tom Barnett from the South Dakota Bar was quoted as saying the amendment could create more legal work and more financial gains for lawyers because cases that are now dismissed as frivolous or unjustified could be revived through the citizens' grand jury and move back into court.
"Lawyers would make a lot more money, but it would be horrible for the system and horrible for the state," he said. Barnett stopped short of explaining why given his contention that lawyers would "make a lot more money" he and the Bar are not in favor of the amendment.
Also quoted in the Rapid City Journal was John Egger of Sturgis, who was Sheriff of Meade County for 31 years. Mr. Egger said he would vote for the amendment. Eggers, 85, said it would improve the legal system, not destroy it.
"They [judges] should be respected. But they ought to be treated like the rest of us if they make a decision that was unreasonable," he said. "There ought to be something in there so the people can do something about that."
The amendment can be read at www.SouthDakotaJudicialAccountability.com.
This press release was distributed to more than 130 South Dakota newspapers and to various judicial reform groups, including A Matter of Justice, from which the text was taken. Reprinted in accordance with the "fair use" provision of Title 17 U.S.C. § 107 for a non-profit educational purpose.