Thursday, January 10, 2019

Two judges reinstated

The Tribune scooped me on this one -- 2 Cook County judges — one cleared of gun charge, one reassigned for anger management — to return to bench at criminal court -- and congratulations to Mother Tribune for that, I say.

The order apparently returns Judges Joseph Claps and William Hooks to their regular duties, although Megan Crepeau's linked article advises that there are some conditions imposed on the jurists' return.

What this reinstatement means, if it is not entirely clear from the article, is that the Judicial Inquiry Board has decided not to bring charges against either judge before the Illinois Courts Commission.

The Tribune article refers to the confidentiality of the judicial disciplinary process but members of the public may not fully understand why the process is confidential.

And in our sad corner of the world, confidentiality is often seen as an easy excuse for protecting the corrupt.

But not, I submit, in the case of judicial discipline.

Here, confidentiality is not merely a matter of choice or convenience. Confidentiality in the matter of judicial discipline is actually required by the Illinois constitution.

Pursuant to Article VI, Section 15(c) of the 1970 Illinois Constitution, as amended, the Judicial Inquiry Board is authorized to receive, initiate, and investigate complaints concerning active Illinois state court judges. When warranted, it is the responsibility of the Judicial Inquiry Board to file a public complaint against a judge with another constitutional creation, the Illinois Courts Commission. In that instance the JIB serves as prosecutor and the Courts Commission decides what sanction, if any, will be entered against the judge.

The process followed by the JIB in responding to complaints is detailed at this page of the JIB website.

Essentially, though, when presented with a complaint, the JIB may close the complaint because it does not sufficiently allege misconduct or incapacity under the law, investigate the complaint to determine whether the allegations may be well-founded, or require the judge to appear before the board to answer questions regarding the alleged incapacity or misconduct.

Only if the JIB takes the next step, that of filing a complaint with the Courts Commission, will the JIB's evaluation of the charges become public.

And -- if you think about it -- this makes sense. In any case that is resolved by a judge, there is a winner and loser. Although they may not always do so with stoic resolve, most disappointed litigants eventually accept their result. But some -- some disappointed litigants are convinced that the judge must have been bought off -- or stupid -- or acting under orders -- and they are not shy about proclaiming their beliefs to all and sundry. I've seen a lot of accusations in my inbox about just about every Cook County judge that's ever made a decision. And I'm just an obscure blogger.

But let's make an extreme, ridiculous assumption. Suppose that half of these complaints are well-founded. (Our legal system would collapse in chaos were this even remotely plausible -- but let's put on our tin-foil beanies and play the game.)

Even under this crazy assumption, fully half of those accused would be wholly innocent of wrongdoing. Needlessly besmirched.

That would not be fair to the individuals falsely accused. And it would likewise not be fair to our judicial system as a whole. As Justice Michael Hyman said, in his concurring opinion in Talamine v. Apartment Finders, Inc., 2013 IL App (1st) 121201, ¶17-18, "Every ad hominem smear, insult, and innuendo, every speculative accusation, every potshot leveled at members of the judiciary has the capacity of weakening confidence in the judiciary as a whole, confidence which is essential to the vitality of our legal system. * * * [E]very personal attack on the impartiality and integrity of judges diminishes the client's (and the public's) already limited trust in the fairness of the legal system."

Now, I know that there will be some -- perhaps even some lawyers -- who will say that confidentiality in regards to charges of judicial misconduct is just another code of silence. But confidentiality may, and in this instance does, serve a useful, legitimate purpose.

In the cases of Judges Claps and Hooks the public found out a lot more about the judicial discipline process than the framers of the Illinois Constitution may have intended.

In fact, the only reason we knew that a complaint had been made to the JIB in the case of Judge Hooks is that the Circuit Court of Cook County announced that it had done so. I didn't report the reassignment of Judge Claps at the time, but there was an announcement about that as well -- though the Claps announcement did not expressly state that a referral had been made to JIB. Apparently, however, someone did (hardly a surprise given the publicity surrounding the charges).

We only know that the JIB has closed their investigations on Claps and Hooks because (1) these two judges reported the news to the Circuit Court, (2) the Circuit Court took action restoring these judges to more regular duties, and (3) someone told the Tribune about it.

Looking at the linked article, it is clear that the Tribune got hold of the actual order issued by the Executive Committee of the Circuit Court of Cook County. Pat Milheizer, Director of Communications for Chief Judge Timothy C. Evans, and a former Law Bulletin editor, often circulates these orders and issues press releases when the Executive Committee takes action on matters that may be newsworthy. I am frequently included on these releases -- from which I often shamelessly crib, albeit with (I hope) proper attribution. The absence of an email on this occasion -- though of course the court is under no obligation to send me beans -- at least suggests that the disclosure in this case was not from the court itself. As of the time this post was published, there was no press release on the Circuit Court's website concerning this matter.

5 comments:

Justice John Roberts said...

In the cases of Judges Claps and J. Hooks I concur with the Judicial Inquiry Board not to bring charges against either judge before the Illinois Courts Commission.

Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

IF MAURICIO ARAUJO IS NOT REINSTATED IMMEDIATELY I WILL BEGIN THE CAMPAIGN TO DRAFT HIM FOR THE SUPREME COURT. WHITE JUDGE REINSTATED. BLACK JUDGE REINSTATED. BUT LATINO JUDGE STAYS IN JUDICIAL JAIL! TIM EVANS HAS NOT BEEN PAYING ATTENTION TO RECENT ELECTION RESULTS APPARENTLY!

Jack Leyhane said...

Or, just possibly, ALL CAPS, Judge Araujo does not have a closing letter from JIB.

That's the problem with confidential processes, especially where the confidential process isn't quite as confidential as it might or should be -- we don't know everything that's going on.

Time will tell... maybe.

Anonymous said...

ALLCAPS- what does that last comment mean re Tim Evans?