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August 14, 2017- State Agency That Disciplines Judges Fights to Keep Operating in Secrecy after 56 Yrs.
A California judicial commission that’s operated in secrecy for more than five and a half decades is engaged in a legal battle to thwart an audit ordered by state legislators and Judicial Watch has filed a court brief supporting the long overdue probe in the name of transparency. A court hearing has been rescheduled three times and shuffled around to different judges, with the latest scheduled for August 17 before Judge Suzanne Bolanos in San Francisco Superior Court. The case sheds much-needed light on the unbelievable history of a taxpayer-funded agency that’s conducted its business in private—and with no oversight—for 56 years, even though protecting the public is among its key duties. The agency is known as Commission on Judicial Performance (CJP) and it’s charged with enforcing rigorous standards of judicial conduct and disciplining judges in the nation’s largest court system.
California’s court system serves over 37 million people and has more than double the judges (1,882) of the federal judicial system, which has 840. The CJP should serve as a tool to keep the system in check. Instead the commission has dismissed 90% of complaints about judges in the last decade, according to figures published in a California newspaper. Only 3.4% ended in disciplinary action and less than 1% led to public censure. None of the decisions were transparent, the news story reveals, and critics have demanded accountability for CJP for years, asserting that the commission gives “biased and inept judges a pass.” In its 2016 annual report, CJP discloses that 1,079 of the 1,210 complaints it received were dismissed after “initial review.” Discipline was issued in only 45 cases with more than half of the offenders receiving an “advisory letter.” Eleven others received “private admonishment,” six got “public admonishment” and eight “public discipline.” Only one judge was removed from office and another received public censure. Offenses included on-bench abuse of authority, administrative malfeasance, bias or appearance of bias and improper political activities.
Last year, a California legislative committee authorized State Auditor Elaine Howle to conduct the first-ever examination into the CJP, including whether the commission upholds due process when considering allegations against judges and how investigators determine which complaints to dismiss. Lawmakers finally acted after mounting pressure from a variety of sources, including Court Reform LLC, a group that pushes for fair and transparent courts that’s found CJP is “ineffective at enforcing judicial discipline, wastes public money and is too secretive about its operations.” An in-depth probe conducted by the group compares the data and policies of judicial disciplinary commissions in California and three other states and finds that the CJP is “under-investigating and under-disciplining judicial misconduct and misappropriating public funds.” It calls for the state auditor to investigate. Howle is appointed by the governor and her office functions as an independent external auditor that provides nonpartisan, accurate and timely assessments of California government’s financial and operational activities.
To stop the audit, the CJP sued Howle and her office asserting that a probe would violate its constitutionally granted power to conduct confidential investigations. The complaint also says that allowing a review of its operations would violate the separation of powers doctrine that prohibits one branch of government from intruding on the powers of another. In her response, Howle fires back that the CJP does not have special immunity because it was created by the state constitution and that the California legislature regularly directs the auditor to audit other agencies established by the constitution, including the State Bar, Public Utilities Commission and the University of California. Furthermore, Howle’s attorneys write, audits of other state agencies, including the Attorney General’s Office and Judicial Council, have not interfered with their core functions. “No court has ever blocked the Legislature’s effort to obtain information about a state agency’s performance via an audit,” Howle’s response to the court states. “There is no reason—and no legal justification—to start now.”
In its lengthy friend of the court brief (officially known by its Latin term, amicus curiae), Judicial Watch acknowledges that there may be a valid reason to keep certain parts of CJP’s work confidential, but the lack of information regarding its procedures and overall judicial discipline undermines public confidence in the integrity and independence of the state judiciary. “An audit issued by a competent, neutral auditor advances public confidence in the integrity of the audited public agency,” Judicial Watch writes in its brief. Judicial Watch also mentions its firsthand experience with CJP’s judicial complaint process and addresses CJP assertions that an audit would damage confidentiality. “In Judicial Watch’s experience, CJP’s disciplinary process is opaque with virtually no information publicly available about how the CJP handles complaints or when, if at all, it acts. Judicial Watch has been unable to ascertain if any action was ever taken regarding its complaints.” Regarding the confidentiality issue, Judicial Watch points out that confidential information is regularly shared between governmental agencies without the information losing its confidential status.
CJP was established in 1960 as a state agency to investigate complaints of judicial misconduct and incapacity as well as for disciplining judges. It has 11 members that include one appellate court justice and two superior court judges appointed by California’s Supreme Court. The others include two attorneys and two lay citizens appointed by the governor and four additional lay citizens appointed by the Senate Committee on Rules and Speaker of the Assembly. Members are appointed to four-year terms. The CJP’s mandate is to protect the public, enforce rigorous standards of judicial conduct and maintain public confidence in the integrity and independence of the judicial system. It’ difficult to accomplish that in absolute secrecy.
Aug 11, 2017 - Judicial Watch Victory: D.C. Court Orders State Department to Search Benghazi Emails of Clinton Advisors
D.C. District Court Judge Amit P. Mehta ordered the State Department “to search the state.gov e-mail accounts of Huma Abedin, Cheryl Mills, and Jacob Sullivan,” former aides of Hillary Clinton during her tenure as Secretary of State. Judge Mehta ordered the State Department to search in those accounts “for records responsive to [Judicial Watch’s] March 4, 2015, FOIA [Freedom of Information Act] request.”
Judge Mehta, an Obama appointee, described our Clinton-Benghazi FOIA lawsuit as “a far cry from a typical FOIA case. Secretary Clinton used a private e-mail server, located in her home, to transmit and receive work-related communications during her tenure as Secretary of State.”
Further, Judge Mehta ruled:
[I]f an e-mail did not involve any state.gov user, the message would have passed through only the Secretary’s private server and, therefore, would be beyond the immediate reach of State. Because of this circumstance, unlike the ordinary case, State could not look solely to its own records systems to adequately respond to [Judicial Watch’s] demand.
[The State Department] has not, however, searched the one records system over which it has always had control and that is almost certain to contain some responsive records: the state.gov e-mail server. If Secretary Clinton sent an e-mail about Benghazi to Abedin, Mills, or Sullivan at his or her state.gov e-mail address, or if one of them sent an e-mail to Secretary Clinton using his or her state.gov account, then State’s server presumably would have captured and stored such an e-mail. Therefore, State has an obligation to search its own server for responsive records.
State has offered no assurance that the three record compilations it received [from Secretary Clinton and her aides], taken together, constitute the entirety of Secretary Clinton’s e-mails during the time period relevant to Plaintiff’s FOIA Request. Absent such assurance, the court is unconvinced “beyond material doubt” that a search of the state.gov accounts of Abedin, Mills and Sullivan is “unlikely to produce any marginal return.”
Accordingly, the court finds that State has not met its burden of establishing it performed an adequate search in response to Plaintiff’s FOIA Request and orders State to conduct a supplemental search of the state.gov e-mail accounts of Abedin, Mills, and Sullivan.
This major court ruling may finally result in more answers about the Benghazi scandal – and Hillary Clinton’s involvement in it – as we approach the attack’s fifth anniversary. It is remarkable that we had to battle both the Obama and Trump administrations to break through the State Department’s Benghazi stonewall. Why are Secretary Tillerson and Attorney General Sessions wasting taxpayer dollars protecting Hillary Clinton and the Obama administration?
Judicial Watch asked a federal court to compel the Trump State Department to undertake a thorough search of all emails of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton regarding the terrorist attack on Benghazi, including those of Clinton’s closest advisors. We also specifically asked the court to compel the agency to produce all records of communications between Clinton and top aide Jake Sullivan relating to Ambassador Susan Rice’s appearance on NBC’s “Meet the Press” the Sunday following the 2012 Benghazi massacre.
This long journey began on May 6, 2015, when we filed a lawsuit after the State Department failed to respond to a March 4, 2015, FOIA request seeking all emails of former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton relating to the September 11, 2012, attack on the U.S. Special Mission Compound in Benghazi, Libya (Judicial Watch, Inc. v. U.S. Department of State (No. 1:15-cv-00692)).
This latest breakthrough made headlines and again focused public attention on the Benghazi outrage. JW attorney Ramona Cotca, who was lead attorney on this case, discussed the victory on Fox News last night. The State Department has until September 22, 2017, to update the court on the status of the supplemental search and production of additional emails to us. We’ll let you know what we find!
Judicial Watch Goes to Supreme Court to Protect Clean Elections
Judicial Watch is in the middle of an election integrity fight before the Supreme Court. We filed an amicus curiae brief asking the court to reverse a decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, which had ruled that Ohio’s process for cleaning voter rolls was in violation of the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 (NVRA) (Jon Husted, Ohio Secretary of State v. Philip Randolph Institute, et al. (No. 16-980)).
According to our brief, “Ohio’s Supplemental Process allows the sending of a statutory confirmation notice to any registrant who has not had any voting-related activity for two years. After that, the registrant may be removed from the rolls if there is no response or further activity for two general federal elections.” The Sixth Circuit concluded that this amounted to removing a voter for failing to vote, which is forbidden by federal law.
In our brief we noted that “the failure to vote only leads to the sending of a notice. Subsequent removal is due to the failure to respond to that notice for a period of time that may extend up to four years. The Sixth Circuit’s attempt to argue otherwise relies on a misuse of the plain language of the NVRA.”
Our amicus brief points out that the Sixth Circuit’s decision undermines a 2014 settlement agreement between Judicial Watch and Ohio, which required Ohio to contact inactive voters every year via a Supplemental Mailing to confirm they had not moved or died, as one of many steps to fulfill Ohio’s obligations under the NVRA to maintain the integrity of its voter list.
We “never would have agreed to the settlement agreement with Ohio and dismissed its lawsuit if [we] believed the Supplemental Mailing was legally impermissible. If the Sixth Circuit’s ruling in this case is allowed to stand, this key provision of the settlement agreement could be voided. This would undermine Judicial Watch’s extensive efforts to protect the integrity of elections for its Ohio members.”
We also noted how “Congress, the Justice Department, and 19 states have concluded that using the failure to vote as a basis for sending confirmation notices or taking other actions to remove voters is fully consistent with the NVRA.”
There is no question about the importance of counting only the votes of eligible voters. The Supreme Court should reverse the Sixth Circuit decision and allow Ohio to continue to work toward clean and fair elections.
Our own Robert Popper, director of Judicial Watch’s Election Integrity Project, has also joined with five other former attorneys of the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department to file an amicus curiae brief in the Husted case. In their brief, Popper and his associates argue:
First, the Sixth Circuit’s interpretation of the NVRA conflicts with its text, structure, and history. Amici have long interpreted the statute oppositely, and they helped the Justice Department negotiate settlements that would be illegal under the Sixth Circuit’s view. [Emphasis added.]
Second, the Sixth Circuit’s decision deprives Ohio and other jurisdictions of an important means to combat bloated voter rolls, a real and pressing threat to the integrity of federal elections.
Between this and our other Election Integrity Project efforts to force states across the nation to clean election rolls, your JW is the tip of the spear against voter fraud and for clean elections.July 28, 2017- Judicial Watch Files Three Lawsuits for Info on FBI Acting Director Andrew McCabe
First lawsuit seeks communications between FBI and McCabe concerning “ethical issues” involving wife’s political campaign; second seeks McCabe communications with Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe; third seeks McCabe travel vouchers.
(Washington, DC) – Judicial Watch today announced that it filed three separate Freedom of Information (FOIA) lawsuits against the U.S. Department of Justice seeking records for current FBI Acting Director Andrew McCabe relating to his political activities, travel vouchers, and employment status. The first two lawsuits specifically seek records of McCabe’s political activities involving his wife’s failed campaign for political office and interactions with Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe. The first FOIA lawsuit, filed on July 24 (Judicial Watch v. U.S. Department of Justice (No. 1:17-cv-01494)), seeks the following: Any and all records of communication between FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe and other FBI or Department of Justice (“DOJ”) officials regarding, concerning or relating to ethical issues concerning the involvement of Andrew McCabe and/or his wife, Dr. Jill McCabe, in political campaigns; Any and all records related to ethical guidance concerning political activities provided to Deputy Director McCabe by FBI and/or DOJ officials or elements.
The second Judicial Watch FOIA lawsuit, filed on July 26, seeks communication records between then-Deputy Director McCabe and Gov. Terry McAuliffe, the Democratic National Committee (DNC), and the Democratic Party of Virginia (Judicial Watch v. U.S. Department of Justice (No. 1:17-cv-01495)), including: Any and all records of communication between Deputy FBI Director Andrew McCabe and any of the following individuals: Any official within the office of the Governor of Virginia, including but not limited to Governor Terry McAuliffe; Any official, representative or employee with the Democratic National Committee; Any official, representative or employee with the Democratic Party of Virginia.
In 2015, a political action committee run by McAuliffe, a close friend and political supporter of Bill and Hillary Clinton, donated nearly $500,000 to Jill McCabe, wife of McCabe, who was then running for the Virginia State Senate. Also, the Virginia Democratic Party, over which McAuliffe had significant influence, donated an additional $207,788 to the Jill McCabe campaign. In July 2015, Andrew McCabe was in charge of the FBI’s Washington, DC, field office, which provided personnel resources to the Clinton email probe. The Hatch Act prohibits FBI employees from engaging "in political activity in concert with a political party, a candidate for partisan political office, or a partisan political group."
The third FOIA lawsuit, also filed by Judicial Watch on July 26 (Judicial Watch v. U.S. Department of Justice (No. 1:17-cv-01493)), seeks the following: Any and all Standard Forms 50 and 52 (i.e., SF-50s and SF-52s) for FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe; Any and all requests for approvals of travel submitted by FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe; Any and all travel vouchers and accompanying receipts and related documentation submitted by FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe; Any and all calendar entries for FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe.
“There are numerous questions about the ethics and judgement of the FBI’s top leadership, particularly Acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe,” said Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton. “These new lawsuits will help Americans “watch the watchers” at the powerful FBI. Judicial Watch is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. Contributions are received from individuals, foundations, and corporations and are tax-deductible to the extent allowed by law.judicialwatch.org
Pretrial Integrity and Safety Act
On July 20, 2017 U.S. Senators Kamala Harris (D-CA) and Rand Paul (R-KY) introduced the Pretrial Integrity and Safety Act, a bipartisan bill that if passed would provide grant money to states and tribal authorities for programs to alleviate jail overcrowding and to eliminate the money bail system. It is estimated that it costs taxpayers $14 billion annually to incarcerate individuals who await trial. Rather than being released by posting bail, criminals can be released under the watchful eye of state or tribal authority employees and in turn receive federal grant monies for their efforts and programs. A pdf of the bill is online. Google "Pretrial Integrity and Safety Act"
July 13, 2017- Mosquitos and Complaints
Heavy rains this year has exacerbated the mosquito problem in Riverside County and residents are advised to monitor and report mosquito breeding grounds in visible and hidden detention basins in their area.
One such visible detention basin in Murrieta is over 30 acres in size and located along Monroe and Jackson Ave. This huge detention basin, only one of many in Riverside county, saved developers millions of dollars in flood control infrastructure.
Some of these basins are not easily monitored as they are hidden below ground, such as one that was approved for the Meadowlane Condos on Adams Ave in Murrieta. According to the public hearings, the drainage channels on the property eventually drain to a grassy slope at the northerly corner of the project and fills a basin that when full will spill excess waters over into the Line E flood control channel on Adams Ave. Be especially watchful of these types of breeding grounds as they are not monitored nor under any mosquito abatement spraying program.
While the risk for West Nile, Zika, and malaria are currently low in Riverside County, it is advised to be proactive in protecting yourself, your family, and your pets from bites. Dead birds in the area are an indication of local disease carrying mosquito breeding grounds.
Residents are advised to call the Riverside Vector Control office at 951-766-9454 to report a mosquito problem.