Holding judges accountable Removal recommended: Public process gives credibility to judicial disabilities commission.

April 06, 1996

MONTGOMERY COUNTY District Court Judge Henry J. Monahan will have a chance to defend himself against allegations that he conducted lunch-hour liaisons with a prostitute in his judicial chambers. In a unanimous recommendation, the Commission on Judicial Disabilities has urged his removal from the bench, but no action will be taken prior to a hearing by the Court of Appeals, the state's highest court.

That is how it should be. However grievous the charges against a judge, he or she, like any citizen, deserves a say in court. Even so, the prompt, public investigation by the disabilities commission helps restore faith that judges in Maryland can in fact be held accountable for their behavior in office.

For too many years, the commission was little more than a black hole in state government. Any complaints forwarded there seemed to vanish behind a veil of secrecy. If judges were ever reprimanded or admonished, the public never knew.

That is no way to maintain confidence in the judiciary. And without public confidence, the judicial system itself is undermined. By acting swiftly and decisively, the disabilities commission has shown that it can be an effective sentinel for judicial misconduct. It has also sent a strong and welcome signal that judicial integrity is important, that the way judges conduct .. themselves is indeed the public's business.

Unlike circuit court judges, judges of the district courts are not subject to contested elections. In the view of this newspaper, that is a good thing. Judicial election campaigns and the need for money to finance them can put sitting judges in situations that easily compromise their impartiality.

But if judges are protected from the political influences of contested elections, there must be other ways to hold them accountable for their performance in office. That is why a strong, decisive and public process of hearing complaints against judges is crucial to the health of the judiciary.

After too many years of a secretive, overly cautious and, from the public's perspective, ineffective performance, the Commission on Judicial Disabilities is at last proving its worth.

Pub Date: 4/06/96

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