Israel cracks down on ex parte communications between judges and prosecutors

In the wake of a high-profile scandal in which prosecutors in a major corruption case exchanged private text messages with a judge about its planned strategy, Israel’s Supreme Court has announced new rules to prevent further one-sided communications.

Under the new rules all contact between the judge and the investigative and prosecuting bodies will only be made during court hearings. Aside from in the courtroom, no direct requests are to be made of judges, but rather are to be filled through the court administration.

This makes a great deal of sense, and gives the court system a chance to rebuild whatever public legitimacy it has lost from the scandal.

West Virginia legislature clears path to investigate state judiciary

The West Virginia House of Representatives unanimously approved a bill that would allow the House Committee on the Judiciary to investigate allegations of malpractice and criminal activity by members of the state Supreme Court of Appeals. The investigation could lead to the impeachment of one or more of the Supreme Court justices.

More on the allegations against the Justices, and especially former Chief Justice Allen Loughry (who was recently indicted by a federal grand jury on 22 counts of fraud and other malfeasance) here and here.

Chicago judge, convicted of mortgage fraud, refuses to leave the bench

Cook County Judge Jessica Arong O’Brien, convicted by a federal jury of mortgage fraud and facing a sentencing hearing in October, has refused to step down from the bench and continues to collect her nearly $200,000 yearly salary. Now the state’s Judicial Inquiry Board has asked the Illinois Courts Commission to suspend her pay pending a full hearing on removal from office.

In a fascinating bit of chutzpah, O’Brien recently filed paperwork to seek retention in the upcoming election. That seems unlikely, but O’Brien is making a strong push for inclusion in the (already spacious) Cook County Judges Hall of Shame.

 

New Hampshire judge resigns after evaluation scandal

Judge Paul Moore, who is alleged to have doctored his state judicial evaluations, resigned yesterday. The resignation is effective immediately.

No word yet on what will become of the formal complaint against Judge Moore, which was last month by the state’s Supreme Court Committee on Judicial Conduct.

Iowa judge allowed attorneys to ghost write “a couple hundred” orders and opinions

A recently retired Iowa trial judge has admitted that “a couple hundred” of his orders and opinions were ghost-written by the prevailing attorneys. Many of Judge Edward Jacobson’s requests for draft rulings were privately communicated by email.

Trial judges at all levels frequently deal with workload crunch by asking both parties to draft proposed findings and fact and conclusions of law. This is a sensible allocation of labor, since the parties and their attorneys are the most familiar with the underlying facts, and drafting orders is time-intensive. It is commonly understood among litigators that a well-drafted set of proposed findings can provide the bulk of a court’s subsequent order.

But judicial requests for proposed findings should be made on the record, in open court. Ex parte communications of the kind Judge Jacobson apparently engaged in suggest a breach of judicial ethics, or at minimum remarkable irresponsibility.

The state court administrator is investigating the matter, and has ordered that the judge’s emails be preserved for at least seven months.

Investigation will continue against Canadian judge who removed woman from courtroom for wearing hijab

Quebec’s Judicial Council will proceed with an investigation of Judge Eliana Marengo, who is charged with refusing to hear a case after a litigant in her courtroom refused to remove her hijab. According to news reports:

In 2015, Marengo refused to hear a case involving Rania El-Alloul because the latter refused to remove her Islamic head scarf while in the courtroom.

El-Alloul was violating a Quebec law stipulating people must be “suitably dressed” in the courtroom, Marengo said at the time.

“In my opinion, you are not suitably dressed,” Marengo told El-Alloul, according to court documents. “Decorum is important. Hats and sunglasses, for example, are not allowed. And I don’t see why scarves on the head would be either.

“I will therefore not hear you if you are wearing a scarf on your head, just as I would not allow a person to appear before me wearing a hat or sunglasses on his or her head, or any other garment not suitable for a court proceeding.”

Incredibly, Judge Marengo’s defense for this behavior is judicial independence.

Dear Judge Marengo: Judicial independence is essential to assure that judges follow the law and provide an impartial forum for the resolution of disputes. It is not designed to justify or protect boorish behavior from the bench. To tie judicial independence to the mistreatment of litigants in your courtroom is to tarnish everything that concept stands for.

Good grief.