On August 11, 2019, the New Orleans Advocate ran an excellent expose on the secrecy of proceedings before the Louisiana Judiciary Commission. See Andrea Gallo and John Simerman, Jeff Hughes Case Shows How a Judge’s Misbehavior Can Remain Hidden Forever in Louisiana, The Advocate at 1 (Aug. 11, 2019). Said the Advocate: ” The commission is among the most secretive state bodies: It threatens to hold anyone who violates its confidentiality rules in contempt of court. Its rules demanding secrecy are stricter and more sweeping than those for misconduct investigations into Louisiana lawyers, or for ethics probes into legislators and state and local government officials.” Id.; see also WWL News, “Louisiana Judges’ Secrets May Violate Constitution, Legal Experts Say” (Aug. 15, 2019); James Gill, Why Jeff Hughes’ Secret Apologies May Finally Lead to Reform of Judicial Discipline Procedures, NOLA.com (Aug. 15, 2019).
The solution? Apply the same confidentiality principles that exist in the lawyer disciplinary system and governmental ethics process. Namely, keep investigations confidential but prosecutions public. Doing so would keep confidential the (many) frivolous complaints lodged against judges by disgruntled litigants. It would limit public disclosure to those cases in which the Commission has made a preliminary finding that there is probable cause to believe that a violation of the Code of Judicial Conduct has occurred. And it would better balance the legitmate need to protect judges from unwarranted and unfair public criticism with the public’s right to know what its public officials have done.