Judges not above law
People attending a school board or municipal government meeting often are puzzled when a member of one of those elected bodies chooses to abstain from voting on an issue.
TOften the member in question made the correct decision regarding something that would have been a conflict of interest. For example, perhaps a school board member abstained because a son, daughter or other relative was being hired as a teacher.
People serving in elected positions are expected to know and abide by rules to prevent conflicts between their private interests and their official responsibilities. Those who violate conflict-of-interest laws deserve the penalties applicable to the offense.
The Wall Street Journal released findings from an investigation into federal judges who failed to recuse themselves in cases where they had conflicts. Here is the most troubling finding: “More than 130 federal judges have violated U.S. law and judicial ethics by overseeing court cases involving companies in which they or their family owned stock.”
Federal law since 1974 has prohibited judges from hearing cases that involve a party in which they, their spouses or their minor children have a “legal or equitable interest, however small.” According to the Journal’s investigation, no judges in modern times have been removed from the federal bench solely for having a financial interest in a plaintiff or defendant who appeared in their courtroom.
Perhaps it is time for that to change.