Equal Justice Under Law
Critiques of the Judiciary
"The real double standard today is between those who appear in court legitimately and those who have bought their verdict before the trial."

The Demise of Justice in the U.S.
“There are two types of corruption with judges: individual corruption and systematic, or institutionalized corruption.  The only type you will ever see evidenced in the media is the individual, or "rogue" type of corruption.  The Powers That Be want you to believe that the judicial system is above reproach, an honored profession, and that only an isolated judge here and there would be caught taking a personal bribe, or bending the law to protect crime.”
-- Joel M. Skousen [1]

Between 1994 and and 2002, an average of 12 judges per year were removed from the bench in the U.S. as a result of judicial disciplinary proceedings by state judicial conduct commissions. An equal number resigned or retired in lieu of discipline pursuant to errant judicial conduct that was made public [2].

In 1999 — a typical year — approximately 99 judges were variously disciplined. Twenty-two judges were publicly reprimanded, five were publicly reprimanded and fined, and three were publicly reprimanded and suspended. Thirty-four judges were publicly admonished, twenty were publicly censured, and one was publicly censured and suspended. Two judges were given public warnings, five were suspended, and seven were removed [3].  From such a pool of candidates came the cases selected by Charles Ashman for his 1973 book, The Finest Judges Money Can Buy.  The modern sequel would be even more appalling.

In Louisiana, a recent example of a judicial retirement following criminal charges is that of former judge Ronald Bodenheimer, who has been imprisoned [4].  Much earlier, former judge Edward Haggerty was removed from the bench for scandalous behavior, and the intervening years have witnessed many other disciplinary cases in Louisiana [5].  In neighboring Mississippi, Judge Oliver Diaz and others were recently indicted [6], and some in the group are facing imprisonment [7].

In California, the Commission on Judicial Performance dealt with 1,080 complaints against judges in 2004. One judge was removed from the bench, two judges resigned or retired, three were publicly admonished, eight were privately admonished, and 13 received advisory letters for various types of professional misconduct [8]. The large number of formal complaints being filed against judges signals a growing dissatisfaction of the public with the judiciary and an increasing interest in judicial reform.

The above statistics may create the impression that mechanisms to root out bad judges are in place and working. However, nothing could be further from the truth. Corrupt judges who are brought to justice are the exceptions, not the rule. The judicial commissions charged with the oversight of judicial conduct are composed of attorneys and judges who are motivated to protect their fellow judges as much as possible. Their deliberations are conducted in secret, and most complaints against judges are summarily dismissed, usually without comment.

Cases that the public does get to see generally involve rogue judges whose conduct is so blatant and outrageous as to attract the attention of the media. Such judges are eliminated with great fanfare because they are an embarrassment to a system that cannot control their behavior. They are removed to make room for others who know the rules and are willing to play by them. The more subtle, insidious, and widespread behavior that essentially amounts to case fixing is so well woven into the fabric of the judicial process that it escapes notice except by those who are intimately involved in the process.

The mechanism of corruption by an institution is illustrated by the behavior of Tulane University, which offers a clear picture of how the judicial decision making process is influenced. The method involves the prior establishment of contacts with judges, a system of gratuities, the creation of trust, and an elaborate mechanism for communicating facts about a case to a judge and imprinting them upon his or her mind. To some extent, the judge himself is a victim of this process, for he has surrended his integrity in exchange for institutional gratitude and other benefits that might accrue.

The demise of justice in America was anticipated by Thomas Jefferson, who warned that the lack of accountability built into the judicial branch would allow it to become an instrument of oppression by those who gained control over it by virtue of their power and wealth.  That time is now upon us.

"The evils of tyranny are rarely seen but by him who resists it."
--John Hay (1872)

  1. From: Joel M. Skousen, "Special Report: Corruption of the Judicial System," World Affairs Brief, December 21, 2001 (http://www.joelskousen.com).

  2. Derived from the American Judicature Society (http://www.ajs.org/ethics/eth_reporterindex.asp), accessed March 31, 2003.

  3. As reported by Americans for the Enforcement of Judicial Ethics (http://www.rentamark.com/aeje/Judges/judges.html), accessed March 31, 2003.

  4. Martha Carr and Manuel Torres, "Jeff judge confesses in 3 schemes; Bodenheimer agrees to help in courthouse corruption probe," The Times-Picayune, New Orleans, April 1, 2003, p. A-1.

  5. In Louisiana, allegations of judicial misconduct are reviewed by The Judiciary Commission of Louisiana, a nine-member panel of lawyers, judges and laymen that also recommends disciplinary action to the Louisiana Supreme Court.  Its reports appear in the Annual Report of the Supreme Court of Louisiana.  The statistical data made public by the Judiciary Commission has ranged from minimal to ambiguous.  However, in 2000, it received 479 complaints and filed formal charges against ten judges.  Three resigned, four were referred to the Louisiana Supreme Court for disciplinary action, and the remainder resolved their cases privately before the Commission.  The Louisiana Supreme Court removed one judge, publicaly censured two others, and declined to discipline the fourth.

    In 2004, in response to citizen complaints about secrecy and case selection practices by the Louisiana Judiciary Commission and the lack of an appellate process, the state Supreme Court proposed dividing the review process into two parts, with authority for recommending disciplinary action given to a second commission [9].  While such restructuring may appease some critics, it entails no fundamental change as would a process that subjects errant judges to the scrutiny of an independent, citizen grand jury.

    According to Suzanne Blonder, senior counsel at HALT (Help Abolish Legal Tyranny, http://www.halt.org), a Washington, D.C. legal advocacy organization, "Louisiana's system of judicial oversight is one of the most secretive in the country.  In an era that embraces principles of sunshine and transparency, it's shameful that the state's system for monitoring our most powerful government officials is designed to shut out the public." [10]  In 2013, HALT was dissolved and replaced by "Responsive Law," an organization that focussed on lawyers and the services they provide to consumers [11].

  6. Jerry Mitchell, "Indicted Diaz pleads 'absolutely not guilty'," The Clarion-Ledger, Jackson, Miss., August 7, 2003, http://www.clarionledger.com/news/0308/07/m01.html, accessed 8/15/03.  See also: Adam Liptak, "Not From a Grisham Novel, But One for the Casebook," New York Times, March 15, 2004, http://select.nytimes.com/search/restricted/article?res=F60F15FB345A0C768DDDAA0894DC404482#, accessed 04/04/07.
  7. Holbrook Mohr, "Famed Litigator, Two Judges Convicted of Bribery," New York Lawyer, April 2, 2007, http://www.nylawyer.com/display.php/file=/news/07/04/040207p, accessed 04/03/07.
  8. "CJP Reports Disposing of More Than 1,000 Cases Last Year," Metropolitan News Enterprise, Los Angeles, http://www.metnews.com/articles/2005/cjpx040805.htm, accessed 02/21/06.

  9. Susan Finch, "Discipline for judges is unjust, panel told; State may restructure judicial review system." The Times-Picayune, New Orleans, September 26, 2004, p. B-1.

  10. Bruce Alpert, "On the Hill; News from the Louisiana delegation in the nation's capital," The Times-Picayune, New Orleans, May 11, 2008, National, p. 7.

  11. Letter of December 9, 2013 from Thomas Gordon, Executive Director of "Responsive Law," to former HALT supporters.

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Web site created November, 1998     This section last modified December, 2013
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