At a hearing to consider three basic judicial reform bills aimed at increasing transparency and accountability in our courts, 15th Judicial District Court Judge Jules Edwards III, who is also currently serving as president of the Louisiana District Judges Association, testified that the sole purpose of the proposed legislation was to “talk bad about the judges.” He also suggested that the state’s judiciary has developed a poor reputation simply because of comments that have been made by supporters of the proposed reform legislation — in short, a perception problem rather than a real problem.
Nothing could be further from the truth, and Judge Edwards’ testimony underscores a fundamental misunderstanding of the challenges facing our state’s judiciary.
To be clear: Our judiciary is often described, inside and outside of the state, as corrupt because a significant number of our judges engage in ethical misconduct. Since 2000, at least nine judges have been removed or suspended from the bench due to severe violations of the judicial canons and many, many others have been sanctioned.
The negative perception of our judiciary is reinforced by news coverage of lavish trips and excessive judicial spending of taxpayer funds, which has been well documented by this and other newspapers across the state.
This perception is crystallized in stone when some members of the judiciary refuse to recuse themselves from cases in which they have a clear conflict of interest.
All of these factors contribute to the reputation that some of our judges have earned. Fair or not, that reflects on the entire judiciary. Is it any wonder, then, that the Center for Public Integrity gave Louisiana an “F” for judicial accountability on its 2013 Corruption Risk Report Card or that the American Tort Reform Foundation has ranked our state as a “judicial hellhole” for the last five years in a row?
Simply put, this is not just a perception problem. The problem is real, and if the Louisiana Supreme Court refuses to address the problem or even acknowledge that there is one, then the Legislature should act within the confines of our Constitution to help do it for them.
executive director, Louisiana Lawsuit Abuse Watch