Commentary: No judge is above the law

Justice may be blind, but the commission in charge of disciplining California's judges should have its eyes wide open when a jurist shows up on its docket more than once.

Because judges wield such enormous power, it is no trifling matter when they stand accused of abusing their authority. And since it is exceedingly rare for them to be formally investigated, it is very troubling that two local jurists — Placer Superior Court Judge Joseph W. O'Flaherty and Sacramento Superior Court Judge Peter J. McBrien — have been in the dock twice.

Over the last decade, the state Commission on Judicial Performance has fielded an average of 982 complaints a year. Almost all are summarily dismissed because there's no evidence of anything fishy; there have been only 34 formal proceedings in that time. If the commission finds misconduct, it can issue a private admonishment, a public admonishment or censure, and in the most egregious cases it can sack a judge — done only two dozen times.

The commission considers previous misconduct, and its director says there has never been a judge censured more than once who has not been removed. But even without a prior censure, repeat offenders deserve special attention.

Last week, the commission announced formal proceedings against O'Flaherty, who joined the Superior Court bench in 1998.

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