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State Senate passes judicial transparency bill: What does it mean?

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  • Staff Report 

The New York State Senate has passed a significant piece of legislation aimed at increasing transparency and accountability in the state’s judicial system. The bill, which received a resounding 61-1 vote in the Senate, is set to be considered by the State Assembly in early 2024.

One of the key provisions of the legislation is to make judicial disciplinary proceedings public, a practice already in place in 38 other states. Currently in New York, inquiries into judicial conduct, and sometimes even the outcomes, are kept confidential by law. This bill aims to align New York with the mainstream approach of transparency in judicial proceedings.

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Another notable aspect of the legislation allows the Commission on Judicial Conduct to complete proceedings against judges who resign while under investigation. Since 1978, 650 judges have resigned before the conclusion of disciplinary proceedings, with the Commission unable to confirm the existence of these proceedings.

The bill also proposes a change in how the Commission’s annual budget is processed, advocating that it should be directly submitted to the Legislature with comments from the Governor, rather than being dictated by the Budget Division. This change reflects the Commission’s independence from the Executive Branch. Joseph W. Belluck, Commission Chair, and Administrator Robert H. Tembeckjian, who authored an article in the New York Law Journal supporting the legislation, emphasized that the bill embodies responsible governmental transparency, greater accountability, and budgetary integrity. The Commission is hopeful that the Assembly will pass the bill, allowing it to be signed into law by the Governor.