I went to watch oral argument today at the Supreme Court. Court of Appeals Judge Wendell Griffen is suing to force the Judicial Discipline Commission t o have an open hearing. The Supreme Court, which might hold 150, was full, where normally its just a handful of press and the law clerks. The most interesting part to me was that an appeals court judge was representing himself before the Supreme Court. Two of the judstices had to recuse because they had run against Griffen previously. As Judge Griffen said, the facts are not in dispute. He very publicy spoke his mind on several topics including, a judge's freedom of speech rights. For speaking his mind, he has been cited multiple times by the discipline committee. He won his last case because the rules were somewhat vague. They have made the rules more clear and the discipline committee is again after him.
The bigger issue is clear, does a judge have a right to speak about any issue he wants to without fear of reprimand or censure? But the issue today was far more technical--and all that was discussed was whether the next hearing has to be open. I enjoyed watching the discipline committee attorney ( who I used to work with) dance around the questions. Over and over he was asked what is the government's interest in keeping the hearing secret? Over and over he dodged the question and tried to make up hypothetical situations where secrecy would be needed. I could see his point but in this case - where the judge wants all the facts to come out, where by law the facts will all be released immediatley after the hearing, and where there are no witnesses needing confidentiality - there is no need for secrecy I agree. The better answer was that the commission could not arbitrarilhy make this hearing public without giving the same right to all judges. Judge Griffen claimed that due process requires a fair haring but also an open hearing. I don't think this is true because there are many secrety type of hearings, juvenile hearings, grand jury hearings, and others. I also didn't agree with h is freedom of information argument - because he was in effect arguing on behalf of the press and public, not for himself. Without a doubt, Judge Griffen is one of this state's most intellectual judges. The point they were arguing was limited but it was far more interesting than most cases, ( such as mine) you will see in the Supreme Court.