Judges, Court and Police Officers and Lawyers Accountable
[This is a digest of the chapter in the book]
Common Sense Commission
Judges do not like seeing their name in print in connection decisions that are obviously unjust. It embarrasses them. This fact can be used to give judges a powerful incentive to act responsibly. A commission of ordinary citizens (the "Common Sense Commission") can be established to review decisions referred to them by a party to a lawsuit. The Commission will review the decision from the perspective of common sense. Decisions that don't show any will be described in newspaper stories and television and radio station announcements.
Judges will be required to inform parties in each lawsuit of the Common Sense Commission and how to contact it. The commission will not have the power change any decision or the result. This must be done by an appeal. But the commission could widely publicize decisions it thinks are unjust or lacking in common sense.
Evaluate Every Judge's Work Annually
A new state agency, not a part of the judicial branch of Minnesota government, can be established to review the work of each judge once a year and issue a report to the public on his/her performance. This agency, the "Minnesota Judicial Evaluation Commission," can be a small group of commissioners appointed by the governor and possibly confirmed by the legislator. In addition to evaluating the performance of each judge once a year, it also can publish a report on each judge who seeks to be re-elected as proposed in Chapter 13, Publish Report Cards on Judges at Re-Election Time.
Make Judges Pay Damages in Egregious Cases
Judges will act much more responsibly if they may be liable for damages when they injure a person intentionally or as a result of gross negligence. A court, the "Minnesota Judges Court" will consider and rule on complaints against judges. The Judges Court would be a special court independent of the state judicial branch of government whose members will be selected in the same manner as judges of the Minnesota Court of Appeals. The only cases that would go before the Judges Court would be those that make a claim against a judge for damages. Judges will be liable for damages that result from gross negligence in performing his duties or from actions intended to wrongfully hurt a person.
To protect judges from harassment and frivolous or baseless claims or suits, the Minnesota Judicial Evaluation Commission will first decide if probable cause exists and, if so, refer the case to the Judges' Court. A judge would be liable to pay damages if the Judges Court decides that the judge: (1) misinterpreted or misapplied the law either intentionally or as a result of gross negligence; (2) was clearly and unfairly biased against the person who makes the claim; (3) clearly was dishonest or untruthful; or (4) made a ruling so lacking in merit or grounds as to be clearly unjust. The law would apply to all judges including judges of the Minnesota Court of Appeal and the Minnesota Supreme Court and to others who perform judge-like duties such as court referees.
Certification of Court Decisions
A person who starts a lawsuit and his attorney are required to certify that there is a reasonable basis for the lawsuit. A person who brings a lawsuit in bad faith, or with no reasonable basis and thereby violates the certification can be fined (called "sanctions"). The lawyer also can be sanctioned. Because of this possibility, lawyers normally will refuse to sue out a case that isn't supportable. Like lawyers, judges will include a certification under oath in each decision that the decision is based on the facts in the case, the law, and is just. A judge may be sanctioned and assessed damages payable to an injured party if the Judges Court finds that his/hr decision was, intentionally or through gross negligence, dishonest, biased, contrary to law, or so lacking in merit as to be unjust.
Lawyer Reference Service
A reference service similar to the Better Business Bureau can be created to help people determine if a lawyer they want to hire has a reputation for honesty and reasonableness. Every lawyer would be required to inform potential clients of the Lawyer Reference Service and provide information on how to contact it.
A lawyer would be listed by the Lawyer Reference Service if ten of his clients provide a signed written statement to the Lawyer Reference Service that he/she is honest and ethical. Nothing would be said by the Lawyer Reference Service about any lawyer who is not listed on its roster.
The Lawyer Reference Service could receive complaints about a lawyer and, if it determined they are justified, remove a lawyer from its roster. The lawyer Reference Service would not be allowed to give a negative reference about any lawyer - merely whether or not a particular lawyer is listed on its roster. This reform would provide incentive for lawyers to develop and maintain a reputation of being ethical.
Other reforms that can improve our court and legal system are proposed and discussed in our website: www.mncourtreform.org/. Please let us know what you think of these additional reforms and what reforms you think would help. Write to us at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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