Tit for tat scorches independence

By HEINZ DINTER, PhD

Our judges are as honest as other men, and not more so. They have, with others, the same passions for party, for power, and the privilege of their corps.
Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826)
American revolutionary leader and political philosopher,
author of the Declaration of Independence,
and 3rd United States president

The role of the judge in our society

The Preamble to the Code of Judicial Conduct summarizes our blessings and emphasizes the duties of our judges: “Our legal system is based on the principle that an independent\, fair and competent judiciary will interpret and apply the laws that govern us. The role of the judiciary is central to American concepts of justice and the rule of law. Intrinsic to all sections of this Code are the precepts that judges, individually and collectively, must respect and honor the judicial office as a public trust and strive to enhance and maintain confidence in our legal system.”

Will not the strength envisioned for our judiciary to rule independently, fairly, and competently be in jeopardy if We the People waver in our desire to respect judges?

Judges are not simply members of a profession like bakers, bankers, or candlestick makers. Members of the judiciary have a unique place in our society — they pass judgment on all of us.

It is for these reasons that our system of installing judges must be changed to give true value to the respect and honor the judge gives to his office, and to also give true value to the respect and honor We the People have for our judges.

I grew up in a society with roots of the highest respect for professions, among them teachers, clergy, and judges. Totalitarian control of the people deprived of the many freedoms we enjoy in America, and without protection of an impartial judiciary, made this respect meaningless, especially for clergy and judges. Clergy, we were taught, are enemies of the people and judges are the true protectors of the peoples’ rights. Only those who were blinded by government dogma failed to recognize the hypocrisy of marionettes being presented as judges of the peoples’ court.

Let us remind ourselves, “The people are the masters of both Congress and courts, not to overthrow the Constitution, but to overthrow the men who pervert it.” They are the words of Abraham Lincoln.

The unique relationship between judges and lawyer must be safeguarded and the temptation of influence buying avoided, though it is at the cost of curtailing the rights of citizens to make contributions.

In the case of a conflict, protecting the integrity of the judiciary and with it the rights of We the People must take precedence over protecting the rights of a profession.

However, it could be argued that the lawyer who takes the Oath of Admission to The Bar, “I will maintain the respect due to courts of justice and judicial officers,” voluntarily renounces that right in support of avoiding any suspicion that could tarnish the image of independence and fairness of the judiciary.

Florida’s system of selecting state judges jeopardizes fair justice

The election of judges in the State of Florida judicial system appears to be wonderful because We the People choose the men and women who are to sit in judgment of our conduct as members of Florida’s citizenry. How wonderful is it?

To begin with, Canon 7 of the Code of Judicial Conduct addresses a judge’s political activity: “A Judge or Candidate for Judicial Office Shall Refrain From Inappropriate Political Activity.”

What is “inappropriate” political activity? Avoiding political activity will dodge raising the question of inappropriateness altogether. But, that’s where the fundamental issue lies. Political activity is everything dealing with and pertaining to life, the complex or aggregate of relationships of people in society.

Judges up for re-election or candidates for judicial office neither desire nor take active steps to challenge the Code of Judicial Conduct. The facts of life, however, still wait in the wings: election campaigns and the associated costs therefor.

Raising funds to finance elections call for moves to ask for contributions. Receptions are a popular tool, and I have attended a number as an observer.

Lo and behold, who do I rub elbows with? Let’s be more specific and in line with the intent. Aside from politicians and a handful of citizens, the reception is flooded with attorneys.

But they are the ones who, plying their trade, appear before the judge (if he or she is elected or re-elected) seeking a judgment in that attorney’s client’s favor. Ouch!

The matter gets more intense. Now we are talking about money. Known as election contribution, the overwhelming sums of money contributed by lawyers, officers of the court, come from those who cannot deny influence peddling is the smoking gun.

How can fair justice be secured?

The solution may sound simple, but faces immense obstacles because the influence and power of The Bar rivals that of the Inquisition of centuries ago.

Let the governor, head of the state’s political fabric, select a group of citizens who commit themselves to impartiality, to select candidates for judgeships.

Let’s keep it simple, honest, and fair. We the People must not be disappointed.

 

 

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