From the January 2006 Idaho Observer:


Judicial accountability on the ballot for 2006 in SD

from SD J.A.I.L.

As of Sept. 19, 2005, South Dakota J.A.I.L. for Judges had collected enough valid petition signatures for SD Secretary of State Chris Nelson to declare that a judicial accountability amendment would be on the ballot for Nov., 2006.

South Dakota J.A.I.L.ers are the first state to achieve ballot status for a judicial accountability measure through the legal reform movement founded by Ron Branson of Riverside, Calif., in April, 1995. Some 12,000 signatures have been secured from that state’s approximately 755,000 citizens. Though already on the ballot, SD J.A.I.L.ers have set a goal of 43,000 petition signatures.

Judicial Accountability Amendment, or "J.A.I.L.," is designed to make the judicial branch of state government answerable and accountable to the people through an independent entity rather than being only accountable unto itself. The entity that this amendment creates is a Special Grand Jury comprised of ordinary South Dakota citizens empowered to hear complaints of judicial misconduct.

The people of South Dakota have always had the ownership of all branches of government, and to restore their ability to control and assure proper function of the judicial branch, the people need to pass "Amendment E" so that they can exercise the responsibility they have always had but have forgotten: The responsibility to self-govern and assure honesty in government.

Judges who are honest and who fulfill the responsibilities of their jobs in good faith will have no problem with this amendment which articulates the authority and responsibility of the people, their employers, to have oversight of the judges, who are the employees. Honest, fair lawyers have nothing to fear from this legislation, either.

The people must exercise oversight of their courts, as they must with all branches of their hired government. Constitutional Amendment E, will place the oversight of the Judicial Branch of South Dakota state government back in the hands of the people where it belongs. Retired Mead County Sheriff John Egger of Sturgis, agrees. When interviewed by Kevin Woster of the Rapid City Journal, Egger said that he would vote for this amendment. "They (judges) should be respected. But they ought to be treated like the rest of us if they make a decision that was unreasonable," he said. "There ought to be something in there so the people can do something about that." (Rapid City Journal, December 24, 2005)

The Journal of the American Bar Association recently published the results of a national survey. The survey found that 46 percent of people in the U.S. strongly or somewhat agreed with the opinion of a U.S. congressman who called judges arrogant, out-of-control and unaccountable.

An article by Geraldine Hawkins, March 7, 2003, MassNews.com, quoted Judge Edith H. Jones of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit as stating, "The American legal system has been corrupted almost beyond recognition," when she spoke at the Federalist Society of Harvard Law School on February 28, 2003.

According to Judge Jones, the first contemporary threat to the rule of law comes from within the legal system itself.

"The legal aristocracy has shed their professional independence for the temptations and materialism associated with becoming businessmen."

" The legal system has also been wounded by lawyers who themselves no longer respect the rule of law."

"When lawyers cannot be trusted to observe the fair processes essential to maintaining the rule of law, how can we expect the public to respect the process?"

Judge Jones’ comments on the "legal aristocracy" was demonstrated by the comments made by Rapid City trial attorney Patrick Duffy to Rapid City Journal staff writer Kevin Woster, Saturday, December 24. 2005.

"It is the single most insane piece of legislation ever proposed by the people of South Dakota," Duffy said. "This contemplates some system with a self-proclaimed grand jury of ‘lunatics,’" he added for good measure.

Yet Mr. Duffy also admits that there are clear problems in the existing legal system, which is too heavily weighted toward incarceration.

"I’m one who happens to think that we hit injustice more than justice in this country."

On the one hand Duffy, like Judge Jones, admits that there is a problem with the current system of self-policing within the judicial system, yet this "legal aristocrat" doesn’t feel that a "self-proclaimed grand jury made up of insane lunatics" (the people of South Dakota) should have the right to correct the problem.

No matter who thinks what, the people must exercise oversight of their courts, as they must with all branches of their hired government. For us to have true justice and an honest judiciary, Constitutional Amendment E, Judicial Accountability is necessary.

Would you allow criminals the power to self-police themselves and hold themselves accountable for their actions? Of course not, that’s why we have trials by jury, comprised of 12 independent, conscientious citizens. A jury of one’s peers, 12 people to weigh the law and the evidence against the accused to determine IF a crime has been committed and IF the accused should be punished. Judges need to be held accountable through a structure that establishes an independent jury of citizens.

SD J.A.I.L. can be found online at: www.SouthDakotaJudicialAccountability.com

Email: SDJA@SouthDakotaJudicialAccountability.com

The mailing address is PO Box 412, Tea, SD 57064 and SDJAC contact Gary Zerman can be phoned at (605) 231-1258.