WHO’S TO JUDGE?
by Buck Quigley - posted 2:09 pm, April 14, 2008
As the Buffalo school board’s ethics committee is expected to announce its findings on Tuesday, April 15, regarding charges that members of the school board leaked information to the media, it may be reasonable to inquire if certain members should be sitting on the panel in the first place.
The ethics committee is currently debating a slew of charges including those brought by school board members Chris Jacobs (vs. whoever leaked information from an alleged executive session of the school board to the media), Florence Johnson (vs. Catherine Nugent-Panepinto, for talking to the press), and Ralph Hernandez (vs. Superintendent Williams, for mishandling the Discovery School incident).
Both Hon. James A. W. McLeod, chairman of the ethics committee, and Hon. Craig D. Hannah, who joined the nine-member group late, last Tuesday, appear to be presiding there in conflict with New York State standards and administrative policies pertaining to judicial conduct.
According to the Official Compilation of Codes, Rules and Regulations of the State of New York, “A full-time judge shall not accept appointment to a governmental committee or commission or other governmental position that is concerned with issues of fact or policy in matters other than the improvement of the law, the legal system or the administration of justice.”
Therefore, weighing in on the activities of the school board would seem to be outside the scope of prescribed behavior for any full-time sitting city court judge.
There is good reason for this policy. It would be unlikely—but possible—that anyone wishing to appeal the ethics panel’s findings could find themselves standing before either McLeod or Hannah in a court of law.
The New York State Regulations go on to say: “A judge shall not serve as an officer, director, trustee or non-legal advisor if it is likely that the organization: (I) will be engaged in proceedings that ordinarily would come before the judge; or (II) if the judge is a full-time judge, will be engaged regularly in adversary proceedings in any court.”
These rules are in place to keep judges above the fray and advise against “extra-judicial activities in general” so as not to cast reasonable doubt on the judge’s capacity to act impartially as a judge; detract from the dignity of judicial office; or interfere with the proper performance of judicial duties.
As the board of education and the school board continue to devolve into chaos in the wake of outrageous actions, convoluted cover-ups, and heated finger-pointing—who will remain impartial on the city court to decide cases that may still come before the bench as a result of the ongoing mayhem?