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00-00-01-97-00-00 Putting the Mice in Charge of the Cheese (RE- US Judge Manuel Real - US District Court, California Central District) Kentucky Law Journal 97:439

00-00-01-97-00-00 Putting the Mice in Charge of the Cheese (RE- US Judge Manuel Real - US District Court, California Central District) Kentucky Law Journal 97:439

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Published by: Human Rights Alert, NGO on Jan 02, 2011
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09/26/2013

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On September 19, 2006, the Breyer Committee issued a 180-page report entitled Implementation of the Judicial
Conduct and Disability Act of 1980. n202 The report was the culmination of a two-year study of misconduct complaints
designed to assess "whether the judiciary, in implementing the Act, has failed to apply the Act as strictly as Congress
intended, thereby engaging in institutional favoritism." n203 Coincidentally, the Committee issued its findings only two
days before Real's impeachment hearing before Congress-the most dramatic moment in the case that had become
shorthand for precisely this issue. n204

The Breyer Committee gave the judiciary's enforcement of the Act a mixed review. n205 On the one hand, "chief
circuit judges and judicial councils are doing a very good overall job in handling complaints." n206 Cases [*469] filed
mainly by prisoners and disgruntled litigants were usually deemed meritless, n207 and cases were properly disposed of
ninety-seven to ninety-eight percent of the time. n208 On the other hand, the judiciary frequently mismanaged
high-profile complaints, many of which were filed by attorneys, court personnel, or public officials. n209 Between
2001-2005, the judiciary received seventeen high-profile complaints and mishandled five, an error rate of nearly thirty
percent. n210 The committee was blunt in its criticism of the judiciary's record in these cases, calling the error rate
"problematic" and "far too high." n211 The mismanaged, high-profile misconduct cases were a tiny fraction of the total,
n212 but because they involved substantial allegations of wrongdoing and received attention from the media, they had a
disproportionate impact. n213 The public did not read about the hundreds of frivolous complaints that the chief judges
rejected out of hand each year. n214 But anyone with an Internet connection or a newspaper subscription could readily
familiarize herself with the Real complaint and the other controversial misconduct cases covered by the press. The
Committee expressed concern that the substantial error rate in the handling of these cases was fostering the perception
that the system "may discourage those with legitimate complaints from using the Act." n215

The Breyer Committee Report devoted an entire section to discussing the seventeen "high-visibility" complaints
handled by the judiciary between 2001 and 2005, examining in detail the five mishandled complaints within this subset.
n216 But the report named no names; even where the judge had waived confidentiality he remained anonymous. n217
In four of the five mishandled cases, the committee determined that the breakdown in the disciplinary process occurred
at the initial stage of review because the chief judge gave short shrift to the misconduct allegations by incorrectly
[*470] resolving, or simply ignoring, disputed factual issues rather than appointing a special committee to investigate
them. n218 The 2003 Real misconduct complaint was among this group. n219 In assessing the defects in the Ninth
Circuit's handling of the matter, the committee's critique echoed Kozinski's dissent, quoting from it several times. n220
In the Committee's view, both the chief judge and the Judicial Council were in error; the former for twice dismissing
substantial allegations of misconduct without appointing a special committee and the latter for upholding the second
dismissal. n221

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97 Ky. L.J. 439, *467

Yet, nowhere in its analysis of the Real complaint or the other mishandled, high-profile misconduct cases was there
any mention of the committee's central inquiry: Was institutional bias the root cause of the problems affecting the Act's
enforcement? n222 Instead, the Committee speculated that the error rate in the high-visibility complaints "may reflect
the greater complexity of such cases and less familiarity with their proper handling as a result of their infrequent
occurrence." n223 In essence, the Committee concluded that the problem lay with the nature of the cases, not the nature
of the judges. n224 Not surprisingly, the reforms proposed in the Committee's report reflected that belief: to reduce the
error rate, the Committee advocated for an infusion of resources and training to clarify the distinct roles of the chief
judge and the Judicial Council in the disciplinary process and to provide guidance in the carrying out of their respective
duties. n225

The only one of the Committee's recommendations to address the issue of institutional bias did so indirectly and
equivocally by suggesting that [*471] in some cases, chief judges consider transferring misconduct complaints out of
the circuit in which they originated. n226 The Committee stated: "Transfers should not be a regular occurrence, but
some complaints might be better handled by judges outside the circuit. We can see reasons for and against doing so."
n227 Potentially transferable cases included high-profile complaints "whose local disposition might create a threat to
public confidence in the process- the view that judges will go easy on colleagues with whom they dine or socialize."
n228 Also included in this list were well-supported complaints that named all of the judges within a circuit, attacked a
circuit's internal procedures, or were "filed in a circuit beset by internal tension tied to the alleged misconduct." n229

But the Committee found that an equal number of factors counseled against out- of-circuit transfers: a lesser ability
among judges unknown to each other to determine the best way to dispose of a complaint or to enforce a sanction; less
inclination to "go through the emotionally draining work of imposing tough sanctions on judges not of their own
circuit"; and the delay and expense involved in handling disciplinary proceedings "from a distance." n230 The equal
number of pros and cons on both sides, none weighted more than any of the others, suggested an endorsement of
transfers that was, at best, lukewarm. n231

TheCommittee proposed no changes to the Act's strict confidentiality provision. This was not surprising, for, as the
Committee stated at the outset of the report, its responsibility was not "to rewrite the Act, and none of our
recommendations requires statutory amendment." n232 But while the Committee was not charged with overhauling the
language of the statute, it was committed to answering its critics' loudly voiced concerns that the judicial system of
self-discipline was unable to function effectively because judges were more concerned with protecting their colleagues
than policing them. n233 The secrecy cloaking the Act's procedures had long been [*472] criticized as facilitating the
whitewashing of valid complaints. n234 Despite the vital role of secrecy in the Act's administration, the Committee's
report did not suggest that it contributed to the frequency with which judges dismissed legitimate complaints without
conducting an inquiry or providing an explanation.

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