The Minnesota Board on Judicial Standards recently announced that it has initiated a mentorship program. The Board noted that, in the past, it rarely appointed mentors but that it has done so three times in 2014, in two matters that also included public reprimands and in one that involved a private admonition. It explained:
The Board’s focus is not to simply discipline a judge who has committed misconduct but also, if it appears the judge needs assistance in addressing the causes of the misconduct, to attempt to provide that assistance.
The current program involves the continuing participation of both a designated Board member and a mentor. The mentor is a judge or retired judge selected by the mentee judge and the Board. The mentor observes the mentee judge in court, meets with the judge, and offers guidance and support.
After the mentorships have been completed, the Board will ask both the mentors and the mentees for their reactions and suggestions. At this point, it appears that the mentorship program is working well.
In one of the two recent public cases noted by the Board, the judge was reprimanded for failing to follow the law in six cases, improper ex parte orders in four cases, chronic tardiness and related misconduct, and discourtesy to court staff. The Board required the judge to submit a plan to address the causes of his misconduct as well as to identify a mentor who will file reports on his progress with the Board.
In the second case, the Board publicly reprimanded a judge for failing to supervise his law clerk and approving inaccurate time sheets, refusing to allow a defendant to withdraw his plea, trying a defendant in absentia, and discourtesy to a psychologist. The Board required the judge to identify a mentor, complete an anger management program or therapy, and write a letter of apology to the psychologist.
Others commissions and courts also occasionally impose mentorships on judges in discipline proceedings, including two other examples so far in 2014.
When the Vermont Supreme Court publicly reprimanded a judge for a 14-month delay in scheduling a hearing on a grandfather’s motion to terminate a father’s parental rights, it approved conditions imposed by the Judicial Conduct Board, noting they were thoughtful and “tailored to avoid a recurrence of the failures that occurred in this case. . . .” The Board had required that the judge engage in a 12-month mentoring program with another probate judge and develop plans to ensure prompt scheduling and issuance of written decisions.
The Texas State Commission on Judicial Conduct ordered a judge to obtain four hours of instruction with a mentor judge, particularly in the area of receiverships, when it publicly admonished him for (1) granting non-delegable judicial powers to a receiver in a divorce case and (2) making a disproportionately high percentage of indigent court appointments to one attorney. During the Commission proceedings, the judge had explained that the divorce case that was the subject of the complaint was the first case in which he had had to appoint a receiver and that was his only experience in that area of the law.
Mentorships may also be used in confidential dispositions of judicial conduct complaints. For example, in its most recent annual report, the New Mexico Judicial Standards Commission stated that, since its establishment in 1986, it has referred 83 judges for mentorships as part of informal dispositions.