Details are starting emerge about possible legislative changes to the judicial disciplinary process in Minnesota. As I noted yesterday a strike all amendment was being offered today to an existing bill (SB 2205) that as originally drafted would have let a newly reconstituted Board of Judicial Standards, made up of only legislators, open any prior complaint against any judge “for any reason.”
The amendment removes all language regarding changes to the Board, creation of a legislatively enacted Code of Judicial Conduct, etc.
Section 1 does broach the issue of reopening existing complaints. It amends existing statutes (490A.02 Subd. 4) to add a new paragraph that reads
(b) Upon receipt of a referral from the Joint Legislative Committee on Judicial Ethics, the board shall reopen a matter previously disposed of by the board.
Section 2 creates a Joint Legislative Committee on Judicial Ethics, made up of the House Ethics Committee and Senate Rules and Administration Committee’s Subcommittee on Ethical Conduct. A person who field a complaint with the Board and remained dissatisfied with the Board’s decision could send it on to the Joint Committee, which would then have several options:
- they could determine the judge is “disabled, incompetent, has committed conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice, or has otherwise violated the Code of Judicial Conduct or other law applicable to judicial administration or conduct” and refer the matter back to the Board
- they could determine grounds for impeachment exist and recommend the House in fact impeach the judge
- they could dismiss the complaint (though not explicit in the bill, the author stated this was an option at today’s hearing)
Joint committee meetings would be subject to the state’s open meetings law, but could be closed a majority vote of the Joint Committee at the preliminary stage only. If further proceedings were deemed warranted by the committee, the allegations or charges “must be open” unless:
- a judge’s health records, a judge’s medical conditions, or other information not deemed publicly accessible under existing state law (Chapter 13) are discussed
- non-publicly accessible information under the rules of the judicial branch is discussed
- non-publicly accessible information under some other law regarding public access to records is discussed
Nevertheless, a judge could insist on an open meeting at any point in time.
The bill, as amended, was immediately tabled.