- Associated Press - Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Recent editorials from North Carolina newspapers:

March 23

Winston-Salem Journal on closing proceedings of the Judicial Standards Commission:

Late in the 16th century, England’s King’s Council developed what, in those days, sounded like a good idea.

Ordinary British courts were afraid to convict prominent people, so the council developed a secret court only for luminaries.

But, over time, these “star chambers” became anything but vehicles of justice. The British monarchy used them as political weapons. Eventually, star chambers inspired America’s founders to insist on open courts.

In 2013, the General Assembly had good intentions in passing a law that closed from public view disciplinary proceedings of the Judicial Standards Commission, thus protecting judges from bad publicity related to baseless accusations. Under previous law, such charges and hearings before the commission were public.

Unfortunately, we don’t see how the change helps judges or the public and this issue highlights the need for better public access to what should be public records.

Under the old system, the Judicial Standards Commission did an initial private investigation of complaints against judges. The matter became public only if the commission found merit to the allegations. An impartial committee then heard both sides of the matter and issued a public ruling.

Now all proceedings will be held in secret. The only public notice of such matters will come when, and if, the N.C. Supreme Court actually approves punishment for a judge, the News & Observer of Raleigh reported.

The public will not know when its judges are being investigated and adjudicated through the system and will also be locked out of the proceedings that determine if those judicial officers violated judicial standards.

For judges, the new secrecy increases, not reduces, the potential for harassment. A judge’s political opponents can file harassing charges, either baseless or with only minimal merit, and burden judges with time-consuming and costly defenses, and the accusers will go unidentified publicly.

Open judicial proceedings are a cherished element of American democracy. The legislature should not have closed these proceedings.



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