California State judges association concerned about new rule opening misconduct settlements that involve judges

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The judges are "CONCERNED" the public, their bosses, might have access to information concerning misconduct. Watch - the access to this information will be buried.

California State judges association concerned about new rule opening misconduct settlements that involve judges

A proposal by the administrative arm of the state courts that would make settlement agreements involving judges accused of sexual harassment, discrimination or other types of misconduct is meeting some resistance — from the organization that represents state judges.

The California Judges Association said in a May 1 letter commenting on the proposed change that it supports disclosing records of settlements that involved expenditure of public funds. But it said the new rule “goes beyond what is necessary to accomplish its intended purpose.”

The association instead suggested changes to the proposed rule. One would still withhold information on a settlement if there was a nondisclosure or confidentiality agreement entered into at the time, banning parties from publicly talking about the case. Another limits disclosure to settlements that were publicly funded.

And a third change would limit what kinds of settlements can be disclosed to only sexual harassment and sexual discrimination — and wipe out proposed language that makes settlements involving “other misconduct” public.

The letter was one of five comments that the state Judicial Council received in response to the rule change. Under current court rules, records of complaints, claims, investigations or settlements involving judges are confidential and can’t be disclosed.

The new rule, which the council could take up as early as May 24, would wipe out that protection for settlements involving judges for a wide range of misconduct since Jan. 1, 2010. The new rule was drafted after Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye called for it on April 10, saying in part that the “public has a right to know how the judicial branch spends taxpayer funds.”

The judiciary has been grappling with releasing such information in the wake of the #MeToo movement that brought unprecedented attention to sexual harassment issues. Its stance has been in sharp contrast to the Legislature, which — after pressure from media groups and some members — has released far more information about sexual harassment by legislators and staff members and its costs going back more than a decade.

But the agency disclosed the judiciary had spent more than $600,000 investigating and settling five claims of sexual harassment against three judges and two court officials since 2011.

The proposed rule that would open the records was available for public comment until May 1. In arguing that the new rule should be narrower, California Judges Association President Judge Stuart Rice wrote the proposal goes further than what the chief justice sought in her April 10 statement.

“Including a reference to ‘other misconduct’ in the revised rule would require the release of settlement agreements that resolve frivolous and/or meritless claims in order to avoid litigation and thereby save the public additional and needless expenditures,” he wrote.

The Los Angeles Superior Court, the state’s largest, initially argued against changing the rule in an April 18 letter. The court cited the state Commission on Judicial Performance, which has constitutional authority to discipline judges, as the main authority for disclosure. While supporting the release of names of judges in settlement agreements, the court did not want to see other records of complaints or investigations of other misconduct released.

“We strongly believe that evaluations of and investigations of allegations of judicial misconduct must remain confidential,” LA President Judge Daniel Buckley wrote.

The Commission on Judicial Performance only releases names of judges facing public discipline. Typically, that is only a few cases per year from the roughly 2,000 members of the state bench.

On May 1, however, the court changed its mind and in a second letter said it would support the proposed new rule. A court spokeswoman said that when it became apparent the rule was to be changed the court decided not to stand in the way.

Another comment from Shasta County court suggested only settlements above $50,000 be released. And Justice Carol Codrington of the 4th District Court of Appeal division in Los Angeles also cited the “other misconduct” language in her comment as “vague, ambiguous and subject to vast interpretation.” She likened the term to a “slippery slope of information which could be subject to a public records act request.”

Source: The San Diego Union-Tribune