The agency that disciplines unethical judges in California does not have to release thousands of confidential judicial complaints and investigations sought by the state auditor, a San Francisco Superior Court judge has ruled.
Naturally. It’s how California’s secret government works.
Judge Suzanne Ramos Bolanos said in her ruling this week that the state Constitution gives the San Francisco-based Commission on Judicial Performance the power to shield certain records, effectively trumping the auditor’s legislative authority to review government agencies.
Regardless of the “merit or popularity” of the auditor’s arguments to view such records, Bolanos wrote, voters made clear in a 1994 proposition that amended the state constitution that only proceedings involving formal charges against judges would be public.
Thankfully, State Auditor Elaine Howle is expected to appeal the ruling.
The case stems from an unprecedented standoff between the commission and the auditor’s office after a state legislative committee approved a first-ever audit of the 11-member commission in August 2016. The commission was established in 1960 to investigate misconduct charges involving the state’s roughly 2,000 judges.
Although the small but powerful agency can publicly discipline judges, including removing them from the bench, the state Constitution allows commissioners to carry out the vast majority of their investigations and disciplinary actions in secret.