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OP-ED: Providing more power to State Commission on Judicial Conduct

Proposition 5 (HJR 165) reads: “The constitutional amendment providing additional powers to the State Commission on Judicial Conduct with respect to candidates for judicial office.”

This amendment will add the following to the constitution for the State of Texas:

(13-a) The Commission may accept complaints or reports, conduct investigations, and take any other action authorized by this section with respect to a candidate for an office named in Subsection (6)(A) of this section in the same manner the Commission is authorized to take those actions with respect to a person holding that office.

Proposition five authorizes the Texas State Commission on Judicial Conduct to accept and investigate complaints and reports against candidates running for state judicial office, according to reformaustin.org.

“There is an inherent unfairness in judicial elections when a candidate runs for judicial office against an incumbent because judges are subject to the Code of Judicial Conduct, but candidates are not. H.J.R. 165 would ensure that judicial elections are fair by granting the State Commission on Judicial Conduct the authority to enforce the same standards for judicial candidates that they do for sitting judges,” said Rep. Jacey Jetton (R), author of the amendment.

According to ballotpedia.org, a “yes” vote supports adding a section to the state constitution that authorizes the State Commission on Judicial Conduct to investigate and discipline candidates seeking state judicial office in the same manner as judicial officeholders.

A “no” vote opposes adding a section to the state constitution that authorizes the State Commission on Judicial Conduct to investigate and discipline candidates seeking state judicial office in the same manner as judicial officeholders.

The Texas State Commission on Judicial Conduct is a judicial disciplinary agency in Texas. It was established by the approval of Proposition 8 in 1965 as the State Judicial Qualifications Commission. In 1977, voters changed the name of the Commission to the State Commission on Judicial Conduct with the approval of Proposition 7. The commission is made up of 13 members. In 2020, the Commission had jurisdiction over 4,151 judges according to Office of Court Administration records.

The Texas State Commission on Judicial Conduct is a judicial disciplinary agency in Texas. It was established by the approval of Proposition 8 in 1965. The commission is made up of 13 members: six judges, two lawyers, and five members of the public. The judges are appointed by the state supreme court, the lawyers are appointed by the State Bar of Texas, and the members of the public are appointed by the governor, ballotpedia.org continued.

In 2020, the Commission had jurisdiction over 4,151 judges according to Office of Court Administration records. Out of the 1,240 complaints received by the Commission in 2020, the Commission closed 763 after initial review, closed 334 after a preliminary investigation, and pursued a full investigation for 144 cases. Complaints were most often filed by litigants (494), criminal defendants (279), or citizens (190).

In the Commission’s 2020 annual report, they included the following examples of judicial misconduct:

  • failure to cooperate with the Commission’s investigation
  • inappropriate or demeaning courtroom conduct, including yelling, use of profanity, demonstrated gender bias or the use of racial slurs
  • improper ex parte communications with only one side in a case
  • a public comment regarding a pending case
  • presiding over a case in which the judge has an interest in the outcome, or in which any of the parties, attorneys, or appointees are related to the judge within a prohibited degree of kinship
  • out of court activities, including criminal conduct, engaging in improper financial or business dealings, improper fundraising activities, sexual harassment, or official oppression

Between 1988 and 2020, the average turnout of registered voters in odd-numbered year elections featuring constitutional amendments was 11 percent—39 percentage points lower than the average turnout at general elections in even-numbered years. The lowest turnout for an odd-numbered year election during this period was 5 percent in 2011 when voters decided 10 constitutional amendments. The highest turnout for an odd-numbered year election during this period was 26 percent in 1991 when voters decided 13 constitutional amendments.