Setting the Ethics Bar Lower for Judges

The three-judge Judicial Conduct Panel that has been reviewing the Annette Ziegler ethics case recommended today that Ziegler be reprimanded for judicial misconduct. The Democracy Campaign believes that the recommendation, if followed by the state Supreme Court, will send a most unfortunate message to the public and to the state’s judiciary that judges can take ethics rules with a grain of salt because not much of anything is going to happen to those who break the rules. Setting the Ethics  Bar Lower for Judges

Email date: 1/3/08

The three-judge Judicial Conduct Panel that has been reviewing the Annette Ziegler ethics case recommended today that Ziegler be reprimanded for judicial misconduct. The Democracy Campaign believes that the recommendation, if followed by the state Supreme Court, will send a most unfortunate message to the public and to the state’s judiciary that judges can take ethics rules with a grain of salt because not much of anything is going to happen to those who break the rules.

In making the recommendation, the three-judge panel leaned heavily on past disciplinary practice. One of the problems with past practice, as the Democracy Campaign pointed out in an analysis released today, is that the Supreme Court has treated judges who engage in professional misconduct more leniently than it has treated lawyers who run afoul of ethics rules. Whether or not this was the intent of the high court, this apparent double standard creates the appearance that judges are taking care of their own.

Another problem with the panel’s recommendation is that it applies past precedent to an unprecedented situation. Never before has a member of the state’s highest court faced discipline for judicial misconduct.

The Supreme Court will have the final say on what if any punishment Ziegler receives.