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Top Massachusetts court limits misconduct panel's power to discipline judges

[JURIST] The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court [official website] has restricted the authority of the state Commission on Judicial Conduct [official website] by limiting the penalties that the commission can impose to discipline judges without the court's approval. Under state law [PDF], the Commission is made up of nine members: three judges appointed by the Supreme Judicial Court, three members of the bar, and three non-lawyers appointed by the governor. The memorandum and order [PDF] issued Wednesday follows a long power struggle between the court and the commission after the commission suspended a county judge for a year without pay and fined him $50,000 for sexual harassment. The court only learned of the harsh punishment imposed on the Plymouth County Juvenile Court [official website] judge after members of the court read about the discipline in a press release [PDF], and soon after ordered the commission to explain why it believed it had the authority to suspend and fine Judge Robert Murray without the court's approval. The court ruled that the commission only had the authority to make recommendations to the court regarding allegations of judicial misconduct, but lacked the authority to unilaterally discipline the judge. The Boston Globe has more.

Allegations of judicial misconduct on the federal level have prompted Republicans in the US House of Representatives to introduce the Judicial Transparency and Ethics Enhancement Act of 2006 [press release; HR 5219 summary]. The bill would create an inspector general for the federal judiciary to investigate possible ethical violations in response to claims that members of the federal bench inappropriately attend all-expense paid seminars hosted by special interests [JURIST report]. The federal courts say such a move is unnecessary [JURIST report], a position supported by the American Bar Association [press release] earlier this month.

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