No, it’s not a trick question. Maybe the inquiry could be better stated as “does the U. S. Constitution apply to Judges in Louisiana; – or more particularly in Northwest Louisiana?” This question reads like a true/false on an eight grade civics lesson. But, believe it or not, at least one judge in our alleged “back-woods” justice system does not believe the right of free speech and the right of free press, applies to some journalists, – – like yours truly.
The first ten amendments to the U. S. Constitution are known as the Bill of Rights. The Bill of Rights is the essence of what makes United States citizenship the privilege that it is. The First Amendment reads, in part “Congress cannot make a law that… restricts freedom of speech or of the press…” Not surprisingly, the Louisiana Constitution has similar provisions concerning freedom of speech and the press.
The protesting jurist has reported that John Settle columns are intended to gain favors with sitting judges, – – or to “intimidate them.” This judge believes fellow judges have not complained about these columns either because they are “flattered” or “intimidated” by the same. (This judge did, however, invite me to three campaign functions, – – one of which was to retire campaign debt.)
There are at least 50 sitting judges in Caddo, Bossier and Webster Parishes – – First Judicial District (11), 26th Judicial District (6), Shreveport City Court (4), Bossier City Court (1), Caddo Juvenile Court (4), U. S. Bankruptcy Court (1), Second Circuit Court of Appeals (9), U. S. District Court for Western District of Louisiana (4), Social Security judges, and a workman’s compensation judge. And this number does not include at least 10 retired judges in this area.
Insinuating that these judges are either “intimidated” or “flattered” to the extent that their objectively is lost when performing their duties is certainly demeaning. And, in fact, such comments are totally contrary to the notion that lady justice is blind. Seemingly, this judge believes that because I am an attorney I have to forfeit my right to free speech, and conjunctively, that the free press can not publish any negative statements about judges or judicial candidates.
I believe that judges, as elected public officials, are subject to commentary in the media just like ANY other elected officials, – – especially during political campaigns. I also have the utmost confidence in a judicial system that will not be influenced by the press, and that our judges will follow the rule of law without regard to sentiments about the attorneys in the case or what has been printed about them.
Certainly there will always be questions about judges who second-guess decisions in cases that have far-reaching consequences. But the very nature of the judiciary requires judges, especially those who attain the rank of the appellate court, to make difficult decisions. And the training afforded the judiciary, not to mention the daily trial by fire in the legal system, demand that those sitting in the seat of judgment be made of the strongest steel.
Our expectations are not to weaken the system and allow elected officials, especially in the judiciary, to sit above the constitution. Judges are citizens also, and they must bear the scrutiny of the public both in court and in the press.
Now, to the obvious question, – – no I will not identify this jurist. But I do intend to keep writing columns on judicial elections, – – we have one in Caddo this fall and several next year in both Caddo and Bossier Parishes. I’m certain all those judicial candidates believe in free speech and free press, – – or at least they will give lip service to these rights if questioned.