Dear VT and Messrs. Morrison, Shiffman, and Berens
I read with interest your investigative report “The Teflon Robe”, published by Reuters on June 30, 2020, which “exposes hardwired judicial corruption” whereby “[t]housands of U.S. judges who broke laws or oaths remained on the bench” even though they “have made racist statements, lied to state officials and forced defendants to languish in jail without a lawyer – and then returned to the bench…sometimes with little more than a rebuke from the state agencies overseeing their conduct”.
In fact, your “findings reveal an “excessively” forgiving judicial disciplinary system”. Despite judicial conduct review commissions, “state and local judges have repeatedly escaped public accountability for misdeeds that have victimized thousands….the system tends to err on the side of protecting the rights and reputations of judges while overlooking the impact courtroom wrongdoing has on those most affected by it”.
Teflon Robe: Thousands of U.S. judges broke laws, oaths remained on the bench
By Michael Berens and John Shiffman Reuters
MONTGOMERY, Alabama – Judge Les Hayes once sentenced a single mother to 496 days behind bars for failing to pay traffic tickets. The sentence was so stiff it exceeded the jail time Alabama allows for negligent homicide.
Marquita Johnson, who was locked up in April 2012, says the impact of her time in jail endures today. Johnson’s three children were cast into foster care while she was incarcerated. One daughter was molested, state records show. Another was physically abused.
“Judge Hayes took away my life and didn’t care how my children suffered,” said Johnson, now 36. “My girls will never be the same.”
Fellow inmates found her sentence hard to believe. “They had a nickname for me: The Woman with All the Days,” Johnson said. “That’s what they called me: The Woman with All the Days. There were people who had committed real crimes who got out before me.”
In 2016, the state agency that oversees judges charged Hayes with violating Alabama’s code of judicial conduct. According to the Judicial Inquiry Commission, Hayes broke state and federal laws by jailing Johnson and hundreds of other Montgomery residents too poor to pay fines. Among those jailed: a plumber struggling to make rent, a mother who skipped meals to cover the medical bills of her disabled son, and a hotel housekeeper working her way through college.
Hayes, a judge since 2000, admitted in court documents to violating 10 different parts of the state’s judicial conduct code. One of the counts was a breach of a judge’s most essential duty: failing to “respect and comply with the law.”
Despite the severity of the ruling, Hayes wasn’t barred from serving as a judge. Instead, the judicial commission and Hayes reached a deal. The former Eagle Scout would serve an 11-month unpaid suspension. Then he could return to the bench. Read more:
Commissions may take years to start investigating a judge; have “special rules for judges” because “[m]ost states afford judges accused of misconduct a gentle kind of justice” while other “rules can leave lawyers and litigants fearing retaliation” so that they “intimidate anyone with a legitimate complaint”; drop a complaint after having “raised questions about whether proper procedures had been followed”; and allow judges to ‘return to the bench virtually unscathed’, while ‘victims of judicial misconduct are left uncompensated’, ‘“really losing sight of what a justice system should be all about”’.
Teflon Robe Takeaways
Thousands of state and local judges across the United States were allowed to keep their positions on the bench after violating judicial ethics rules or breaking laws they pledged to uphold, a Reuters investigation found.
For its “Teflon Robe” project, Reuters reviewed 1,509 cases from the last dozen years — 2008 through 2019 — in which judges resigned, retired or were publicly disciplined following accusations of misconduct. In addition, reporters identified another 3,613 cases from 2008 through 2018 in which states disciplined wayward judges but kept hidden from the public key details of their offenses — including the identities of the judges themselves.
The Reuters report focuses on a longtime Alabama judge who once sentenced a single mother to 496 days behind bars over unpaid traffic tickets. That judge, Les Hayes, plans to resign this week, years after the judge admitted to failing to “respect and comply with the law.”
Since 2000, Hayes has served as a municipal judge in Montgomery. According to the state’s Judicial Inquiry Commission, Hayes broke state and federal laws by jailing hundreds of Montgomery residents, many of them Black, who were too poor to pay fines.
In 2016, Hayes admitted in court documents to violating 10 different parts of the state’s judicial conduct code. Despite his admission, Hayes reached a deal with the Alabama judicial commission to serve an 11-month unpaid suspension. He subsequently was rehired as a judge by the Montgomery City Council despite a community outcry.
Here are five key takeaways from our investigation, the first comprehensive accounting of judicial misconduct nationally:
Nine of every 10 judges were allowed to return to the bench after they were sanctioned for misconduct.
At least 5,206 people were directly affected by a judge’s misconduct. The victims cited in disciplinary documents ranged from people who were illegally jailed to those subjected to racist, sexist and other abusive comments from judges in ways that tainted the cases.
Each state has an oversight agency to investigate charges of judicial misconduct. But the clout of these commissions is limited, and their authority differs from state to state. To remove a judge, all but a handful of states require approval of a panel that includes other judges. And most states seldom exercise the full extent of those disciplinary powers.
In many states, the system of handling judicial misconduct allegations errs on the side of protecting the rights and reputations of judges, not on the concerns of the complainant.
One longtime Alabama judge who concurrently served on the state’s judicial oversight commission remained on the bench for three years after being accused of violating the same nepotism rules he was tasked with enforcing. After Reuters repeatedly pressed the judge and the state judicial commission about the matter, the judge retired from the bench as part of a deal with Alabama authorities to end the investigation.
Read the full investigation here https://reut.rs/2VwSmAQ.
No charge sticks to judges. Their Teflon robes cloaks them in impunity…while the public is exposed to misconduct by the complained-against judge and all the other members of the judicial system. Judges are unaccountable. The public is at their mercy and their victims are uncompensated. And state judges are not the only ones to wear Teflon robes.
A. Proposal for a joint investigation of federal judges and its justification
1. This is a proposal for a joint investigation extending yours of state judges to federal judges, the only ones with national jurisdiction so that their decisions and orders are apt to affect and even harm everybody in our country.
2. The target of the investigation is not misconduct that can be explained away as limited to individual rogue judges, whose removal and punishment would suffice to deal with the problem.
3. Rather, its target is forms of abuse of power so pervasive and necessarily coordinated among federal judges as to constitute their modus operandi: abuse that has been institutionalized in the Federal Judiciary. Their motive is grabbing illegal gain and convenience. Given that their abuse is so organized and influences all aspects of their activity, federal judges run the Federal Judiciary as a racketeering enterprise.
a. In fact, no lesser a politician than Senator Elizabeth Warren dare denounce in her “I have a plan for the Judiciary too” the systematic failure of federal judges to recuse themselves from cases in which they hold shares in the company of one of the parties before them and resolving the ensuing conflict of interests by favoring that party so as to maintain or increase the value of their shares. Sen. Warren has identified the circumstance enabling federal judges to commit such abuse to be their unaccountability. She has named it abusive self-enrichment.
b. Federal judges’ self-enrichment by abusing their power necessarily includes the crimes of:
1) concealment of assets
2) tax evasion
3) money laundering
4) fraud on the parties through intentional frustration of judicial process predicated on fairness and impartiality
5) breach of contract for judicial services entered into with no intention to perform it and thus, in bad faith
6) breach of their oath and of public trust causing injury in fact.
c. Federal judges have the means of committing those crimes:
1) The Federal Judiciary has a nationwide computer network run by expert personnel. It maintains a database that stores hundreds of millions of briefs, records, motions, applications, letters, decisions, orders, etc., and carries out electronic filings, retrievals, docket entries, daily schedule updating, database searches, etc.
2) It also has leverage over the intelligence agencies, which run even more extensive and sophisticated networks and whose secret requests for secret orders authorizing secret surveillance under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act must be approved by its judges.
d. Would you and the rest of the public trust federal judges to care about administering to you “Equal Justice Under Law” although they have no qualms about breaking the law to ensure their abusive self-enrichment?
4. The exposure of institutionalized abuse of power in the Federal Judiciary that has turned it into a racketeering enterprise will have a…