Proposal Calls for New Members of Judicial Conduct Board

11-3-05 - The state panel that disciplines judges for misconduct would get two new members, including one from a group not currently represented, under a ballot proposal going before Texas voters on Tuesday.

If approved, the Texas Commission on Judicial Conduct would get a new representative from the ranks of the 254 constitutional county judges and from the general public, boosting its membership from 11 to 13.

The proposal will be Proposition 6 on the ballot.

The Legislature approved the proposed amendment to the state Constitution to give the county judges _ who in many cases serve as a county's top administrator _ a representative on the panel that considers thousands of ethics and discipline cases every year, said Rep. David Farabee, D-Wichita Falls.

"The county judges felt there was nobody on the commission that had the exact duties and responsibilities as they did," Farabee said. "This gives them a voice on the commission that is one of their own."

While constitutional county judges in the urban counties rarely perform judicial functions, many in the smaller counties do, said Seana Willing, executive director of the conduct commission. Those duties may include hearing some Class B misdemeanor cases, mental health issues and probate cases.

Written into the Texas Constitution in 1965, the commission currently has one appeals court judge, one district court judge, one justice of the peace, one municipal court judge, one county court at law judge, two members of the State Bar and four citizen members who are not judges or lawyers.

The commission can sanction judges or suspend them for violations. Currently, there are about 3,600 judges under its jurisdiction.

From 2002 to 2005, 3,973 complaints were filed against Texas judges with 168 against the constitutional county judges. Of the 248 sanctions or disciplinary actions, eight were against constitutional county judges.

While the addition of the county judge slot is designed to provide fair representation, the additional public member was to expand the panels diversity and ensure it kept an odd number of members for voting purposes.

There has been some opposition to the proposed change.

In a letter sent to lawmakers last spring, commission Chairman James Hall and two other members said the small number of county judges disciplined by the panel did not warrant adding any members. They also noted that other groups such as retired judges and family law judges are not represented.