From the January 2005 Idaho Observer:

2006: The year judicial accountability comes to Idaho

by the Idaho Observer

CALDWELL—Backers of the Idaho Judicial Accountability Act (IJAA) have begun the process to achieve ballot status for 2006. Norma Batt and Rose Johnson filed the initiative with the Idaho Secretary of State, January 10, 2005. After a review by the state attorney general, and if the backers decide not to make any changes to the text of the initiative, the next step is to begin gathering signatures. IJAA is planning to kickoff its statewide petition signature drive this coming March. IJAA has until July, 2006, to get the 46,000 valid signatures necessary from Idaho’s registered voters to be on the ballot for the 2006 elections.

This will be the third attempt to put judicial accountability to a vote. Previous attempts made significant progress with only a handful of active supporters, but fell short of the required number of signatures. This time, a statewide network of citizen activists is forming to get the job done. "Judicial accountability will be on the ballot in 2006," said Johnson with confidence.

The initiative’s supporters report that when they gathered signatures previously, the concept of holding judges accountable was very popular. Many people told signature gatherers their own personal horror stories of encounters with a corrupt judiciary and were eager to see something done about it. But the concept of judicial accountability was new and not enough people understood the problem well enough to demand a legislative solution.

This time, however, IJAA contacts all over the state are ready to circulate petitions, get signatures and promote the cause of holding judges accountable for their actions on the bench.

The backers are planning a statewide tour this spring and summer to promote judicial accountability, collect signatures and encourage local people to get active in demanding their local judges obey the laws like everyone else. Activistic people from around the state can contact the supporters to find out how they can help make judicial accountability a reality in Idaho.

The initiative has been revised and improved this year. "The Act," as it is called, forms a citizens’ commission "as an agency of the people," to review complaints of judicial misconduct. Judicial accountability supporters who drafted the Act appear to have struck an excellent balance between the need to reform the current system, which has no effective checks against judicial misconduct, and the need to protect judges from harassment.

The Act provides for the following:

* establishes the commission

* describes commissioner selection process and terms of office (three-years) and duties of the commission, its staff, and how it will be self-supporting.

* abolishes the current Idaho Judicial Council, which is made up primarily of judges and lawyers, and has a very poor record of protecting the citizens of Idaho from judicial misconduct.

The Act also repeals the statute which allows judges to siphon off part of the civil filing fees and appeal fees to their retirement fund. The approximately $1.5 million each year that Idaho judges now take from filing fees would go to the Judicial Accountability Trust Fund and be administered by the State Treasurer once the initiative is passed.

Funding will also be provided by filing fees, fines, forfeitures and a three percent deduction from judicial officers salaries if they don’t file a waiver of claims to immunity. Judges currently enjoy a self-legislated "doctrine" of "absolute immunity" which now promotes their lack of accountability.

The commission won’t be the final arbiter of cases. They only review to see if there has been any judicial misconduct. If there has been misconduct the case is to be set for an independent civil or criminal proceeding. The commission will also be empowered to issue habeas corpus writs and grant temporary immunity to both complainants and judicial officers in cases that have come before the commission.

The commission will also issue "strikes" against judges. When a judge is found liable or guilty in an independent civil or criminal proceeding, a strike is issued, and after three strikes the commission will remove the judge from the bench. Half of their judicial retirement will then be forfeited to the Judicial Accountability Trust Fund. If the commission becomes profitable, any excess will be turned over to the state’s general fund.

For more information or to support the judicial accountability movement in Idaho, contact:

Norma Batt (208) 459-0207

Rose Johnson (208) 773-6274.

The mailing address for IJAA is

P.O. Box 968,

Caldwell, Idaho 83607

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