STATE, LOCAL AND TERRITORIAL BAR ASSOCIATIONS URGED TO ADOPT PLAN TO DEFEND JUDGES SUBJECTED TO UNFAIR CRITICISM
Alfred P. Carlton, Jr., Chair,
ABA Special Committee on Judicial Independence
As lawyers and officers of the courts, we have a professional obligation to make certain our courts function as they should. We also have an obligation to educate those not associated with the justice system about the proper function of the courts. When we fulfill this obligation, we do it in the best interest of our country, the best interest of our citizens, and the best interest of those of us who have devoted our professional lives to the law.
With that in mind, I urge state, local and territorial bar associations to formulate plans to respond to inappropriate and unfair attacks on judges.
Last year at the American Bar Association Midyear Meeting in Nashville, the House of Delegates adopted a policy encouraging local, state and territorial bars to adopt programs to present timely, effective responses to unfair attacks on judges.
Subsequently, the ABA Judicial Division Lawyers Conference and the Special Committee on Judicial Independence issued "Response to Criticism of Judges," a handy pamphlet designed to serve as a guide in defending members of the judiciary who cannot defend themselves because of ethical constraints.
We do not intend to stifle dialogue about court decisions, legal issues or policy development. We recognize the importance of informed discussion in our system of self-government.
However, judges increasingly have been subjected to attacks motivated by narrow special interests, which leads to misinformation or intimidation.
It is these unfair attacks against which the bar must rally. Judges have always been subjected to criticism because it is their constitutional obligation to decide difficult, controversial and unpopular cases. However, some of the recent attacks fall into the category of unfairness and must not go unanswered.
It is not just a local or regional problem. If confidence in the judiciary erodes at any level the entire judiciary is affected. A 1997 ABA Report of the Commission on Separation of Powers and Judicial Independence observed: "Judicial independence is not a talismanic slogan to be invoked whenever judges or the judiciary are criticized; in fact there are few agreed-upon bright lines that define a trespass on such independence. However, the concept is so vital to our constitutional form of government that any developing series of events that may undermine the concept should be examined and discussed."
Some state, local and territorial bars are establishing policy, which includes rapid response teams to address these attacks. The ABA Special Committee on Judicial Independence is encouraged that the bars are moving in this direction.
The committee would like to extend a hand to bars in these efforts by acting as a clearinghouse for information addressing problem areas, providing support and direction, and targeting some specific areas for intensive committee action.
Members of the profession can get more details on the committee's work by calling me or our Staff Director, Luke Bierman, or by visiting the ABA Website: www.abanet.org/jd/.