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Letters to the 107th Congress

April 24, 2002

Honorable F. James Sensenbrenner, Jr.
Chairman, Committee on the Judiciary
U.S. House of Representatives
Washington, DC 20515

Dear Mr. Chairman:

We are writing to convey our continued support for the Judicial Conduct and Disability Act of 1980, 28 U.S.C. 372(c), and to applaud your committee's efforts to raise awareness about the statute and improve its administration by incorporating into H.R. 3892 several of the recommendations included in the Report of the National Commission on Judicial Discipline and Removal.

In 1993, the ABA appointed a special Task Force to review the work of the National Commission. The Task Force concluded, as did the Commission, that the judicial discipline statute was basically sound, but that certain changes in practice and procedure would improve its administration. While the Task Force generally concurred with many of the recommendations proposed by the National Commission, ABA-adopted policy focused on only three, considered to be particularly appropriate for ABA comment.

The ABA policy emphasizes the need to increase awareness and understanding of the judicial discipline statute. By removing the discipline provisions from 372(c) of Title 28 of the United States Code and codifying them in their own separate chapter of Title 28, H.R. 3892 signals the importance of these provisions and raises their visibility. The ABA will follow up by renewing its efforts to increase awareness of the availability of procedures for handling complaints and disciplining federal judicial officers among the practicing bar.

The Association's policy also recommends that the Federal Judiciary adopt procedures to make it easier for lawyers to bring serious misconduct to the attention of the Chief Judge anonymously. Even though the discipline statute was amended in 1990 to allow the Chief Judge to identify a complaint, thereby dispensing with the need for a complainant to file a signed complaint, lawyers with legitimate complaints are still wary of personal disclosure. One possible solution is to establish committees within each circuit, broadly representative of the bar (and possibly including lay persons) to provide a vehicle for presentation of complaints to the Chief Judge, and to work with the Chief Judge to identify instances or patterns of alleged judicial misconduct.

Another area addressed by the ABA policy urges the Judicial Conference to devise and monitor a system for the dissemination of information about complaint dispositions with the goals of developing a body of precedent and enhancing public education about judicial discipline. Currently, orders and memoranda filed by the chief judges of the various circuits are available at the clerk's office of the circuit where they were issued. Anyone wanting to study these dispositions systematically still faces formidable obstacles. Additional methods of dissemination should be explored.

The Association's specific concerns over enhancing visibility, removing deterrents to the filing of legitimate complaints, and facilitating the development of precedent in this area are not -- and should not -- be addressed in the legislation before you. Rather, in anticipation of your committee's favorable markup of H.R. 3892, we request that your committee raise these issues and urge that they be addressed by the appropriate bodies in its committee report that will accompany this bill.

Thank you for considering our views.

Sincerely,

Robert D. Evans
Director, Governmental Affairs Office

Cc: Members of House Judiciary Committee

107th Congress Letters Home

AMERICAN BAR ASSOCIATION
Governmental Affairs Office
740 Fifteenth Street, NW
Washington, DC 20005
ph: 202-662-1760
fx: 202-662-1762

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