Thursday, September 17, 2009

Should State Bars Shield Judges from Criticism?

If you're a lawyer, should your free speech rights be curtailed? Before you criticize judges, see here for NYT article (John Schwartz, 9/12/09). The Florida State Bar reprimanded Sean Conway, an attorney, for his blog posts about local judges.

Personally, I am very conflicted. On the one hand, we should respect judicial independence, and we already allow judges to issue gag orders to prevent jury prejudice. But other than judges and lawyers--who are most familiar with the legal system--who else is able to provide reliable information on our court system?

In the final analysis, judges are government employees, not kings and queens. They are 1/3 of our representative government. It makes little sense to shield them from criticism, assuming such criticism does not negatively prejudice the parties in the case. In short, judicial criticism should turn on how the criticism affects the parties, not lawyers or judges.

David Feige, from New York, posted an interesting comment:

Judicial accountability is critical. Awful criminal court judges too often fly below the radar, eviscerating critical constitutional protections, and harming the mostly poor and disenfranchised who appear before them. It is here, more than almost anywhere that free open debate, and even freewheeling and critical commentary should be encouraged, not chilled.

Real judges have the temperament to roll with the punches, and admire and encourage argument in order to bring the truth to the fore. The fact that a judge seeks to squelch discussion, and intimidate opponents says everything one needs to know about their fitness to judge.

Amen, David.

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