On February 28, the MSBA Board of Governors voted unanimously to oppose House Bill 1061, a proposed amendment to the state’s constitution, which, if passed into law, would make it easier to discipline or even remove a judge from the bench based on interpretations of the law rather than bona fide misconduct.
Under current law, only the Governor and the General Assembly (by two-thirds majority in each House) have the power to remove any sitting judge. However, HB 1061 – aimed at amending Sections 4 and 4B of Article IV of the Maryland Constitution – would not only grant that same power to the Commission on Judicial Disabilities, but likewise expand the list of defined scenarios that could potentially warrant the removal of a judge. Presently, the Commission’s power is limited to the investigation of complaints against a judge, conducting hearings stemming from those complaints, issuing a reprimand, and “[recommending] to the Court of Appeals the removal, censure, or other appropriate disciplining of a judge or, in an appropriate case, retirement.”
In its current form, the Bill, which has five sponsors, would allow the Commission on Judicial Disabilities to remove a judge on the grounds of:
- Refusing to enforce applicable law, court rules, or constitutional provisions;
- Rendering a decision or issuing an order contrary to applicable law, court rules, or constitutional provisions;
- Knowingly disregarding applicable law, court rules, or constitutional provisions.
If passed into law, HB 1061 would empower the Commission to order the removal of a judge found to have engaged in any of the above effective 30-60 days from the date the order is issued. Further, any judge so removed would “forfeit any rights and privileges, including pension benefits, accruing from the judge’s judicial service.”
“House Bill 1061 demonstrates a truly marvelous misapprehension of the Judicial Branch of government,” says MSBA President Henry E. Dugan, Jr. “Judges do not ‘enforce’ anything because they are not members of the Executive Branch of government. It is, rather, their job to interpret the law, the rules and the Constitution in order to determine what constitutes a violation of any applicable law.”
“Frankly,” notes Dugan, “it is one of the duties of the judiciary to sometimes determine that ‘applicable law’ is neither applicable nor constitutional.”
HB 1061 went before the House Judiciary Committee on March 7. As of press time, no action had been reported.