Should the JCC be more transparent?
By: LFDA Editor
New Hampshire's Judicial Conduct Committee investigates alleged misconduct by judicial personnel, from a judge down to a court stenographer.
The committee consists of three judges, a clerk of court, two lawyers, and five lay persons. The committee may issue a warning, dispose of a grievance against a judge by informal agreement or adjustment, or recommend that the court impose formal discipline.
It used to be that the JCC executive secretary would send to newspapers copies of an order after a reprimand or other disciplinary action was taken by the committee. That practice stopped in 2009.
Portsmouth Attorney Wilfred Sanders, vice chairman of the JCC, says the fact that a reprimand is on file at the JCC's office in Newmarket and can be inspected by the public makes it public enough.
The Judicial Conduct Committee website also suggests that allowing the public too much involvement in the proceedings of the JCC could have a “chilling effect” on the ability of judges to act independent from outside influence.
However, others argue that the dealings of the JCC should be open to as much public scrutiny as possible, since judges are public servants. Some citizens are especially suspicious of the JCC because Committee members are often current or former colleagues with judicial officials under investigation.
Rep. Frank Sapareto (R-Derry) requested a 2014 bill requiring the New Hampshire supreme court judicial conduct committee to review the records of certain judges, but as of November 2013 that request no longer appeared on the list of 2014 legislation requests.
In 2012 Weare Republican Rep. Gary Hopper proposed CACR 32, which seeks to grant "the people of New Hampshire, in a manner established by law, the responsibility for investigating and evaluating the conduct of members of the judiciary." The proposed constitutional amendment was killed Jan. 17, 2012.
Is it enough to put a judge's reprimand on file and deem it public record? Or should the commission be taking a more active approach to inform the public about its oversight and reprimand of judges?