Judicial Performance Commission has done its job

Published 12:00 am Sunday, December 14, 2008

The agreed memorandum of facts on errors by Warren County Justice Court Judge Richard Bradford III submitted to the state Supreme Court last week makes two things clear:

• Bradford has made some serious mistakes.

• The Commission on Judicial Performance is doing its job.

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Ultimately, the justices will decide whether to accept, reject or modify sanctions for Bradford. The commission, which received complaints dating back a year, investigated them and recommended that Bradford stand before another judge for a public reprimand, be suspended for a month without compensation and pay $100. That’s in the future.

For the present, the commission’s report, a now public record, says Bradford engaged in a variety of misconduct.

Specifically, Bradford:

• Heard testimony and took a landlord-tenant case under advisement, but later heard from the landlord alone before ruling in the landlord’s favor.

• Phoned Joe Crevitt, another of the court’s three judges, and asked Crevitt to dismiss a traffic citation.

• Dismissed the charges in two cases in which individuals filed criminal charges against others — one for cursing and the other for failure to abide by a protective order — without a proper motion or notice to the prosecutor.

• Dismissed a DUI second offense case without allowing the arresting officer to testify.

• Ordered a DUI charge against a minor nonadjudicated after telling others he was sending it to Warren County Youth Court.

• Added parties to an initial restraining order and later ordered contempt warrants against two of them even though the initial complainant had not requested they be added and they had no notice of a hearing.

• Heard from a defendant accused of violating a protective order and dismissed the charge without allowing the prosecutor to be present or present witnesses.

Some of the errors were procedural. There is no requirement that justice court judges be attorneys or have courtroom experience, so such errors are not shocking. Others, however, smell of wink-and-nod “justice” or using the gavel to do favors for friends. While there’s nothing new about corruption of that sort, it’s the kind that undercuts the essential tenet of democracy that we all stand equal before the law.

What is new, or at least heartening, is that the state commission reacted to complaints and rendered an objective ruling insisting that standards of fairness be met. We should never expect less.