The significance of motive when the goal is promoting public confidence in the judiciary was illustrated in several recent judicial discipline cases. For example, in In re Morrow, the Michigan Supreme Court rejected the master’s findings that some of the judge’s actions were not misconduct because “his heart [was] in the right place” and instead agreed with the conclusion that judicial misconduct “must be reviewed under an objective, rather than subjective, standard” reached by the Judicial Tenure Commission. The Court did, however, state that a judge’s subjective intent was relevant to the question of sanction. The Court suspended the judge for 60 days without pay for misconduct in eight criminal cases.
Similarly, in In the Matter of Piraino, the New York State Commission on Judicial Conduct rejected the judge’s argument that, for a judge to be disciplined, a “‘vile, improper or impure’ motive must be charged and proved,” stating “misconduct has been found for behavior that was negligent . . . , or even when the judge’s motive was laudable . . . .” The Commission censured the judge for, in 941 cases, imposing fines and/or surcharges that exceeded the maximum amounts authorized by law or were below the minimum amounts required by law and failing to properly supervise his court clerks, which resulted in the improper fines in some of the cases. The Commission noted that the referee had found that the judge’s “actions were not intentional or purposeful,” but concluded “such a pattern of repeated sentencing errors . . . is subject to discipline.”
See also Ohio Disciplinary Counsel v. Oldfield (holding that the standard for determining whether a judge abused the prestige of office is an objective one).
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