“Judges ought to be more learned than witty, more reverend than plausible, and more advised than confident. Above all things, integrity is their portion and proper virtue.” (Francis Bacon essay Of Judicature). There are few things as detrimental to the rule of law than judges who have neglected the duties of their office.
According to the Texas Lawyer, this has been seen clearly in Lamar County, Texas, through District Judge Eric Clifford’s repeated breaking of the Texas Code of Judicial Conduct. The State Commission issued an official reprimand to Judge Clifford, listing 11 incidents in which the judge violated the code.
One of these items referenced the fact that after taking the position of District Judge, Clifford had remained on the board of directors of the Lamar National Bank, contrary to code. In testifying before the commission Clifford admitted he was aware of this, but continued to hold his position on the board to protect his family’s “substantial investment” in the bank in which he had been a founding shareholder.
The Commission’s reprimand went on to say that many of Judge Clifford’s attorney appointments violated the Texas Fair Defense Act, the law which regulates the appointment of attorneys to indigent defendants. It concluded that an inordinate number of Clifford’s appointments were made to a single attorney, rendering more than $80,000 to this one attorney in a year. They included a case where the attorney was appointed to represent Clifford’s auto mechanic, who had been arrested for cocaine possession.
In addition, the reprimand noted that Clifford had made public comments about cases that had come before him which caused concerns regarding his impartiality. In one instance, the reprimand said, Clifford addressed a local Kiwanis Club about a case that had come to him where a wife was accused of murdering her husband. Before the indictment had taken place, Clifford spoke to the Kiwanis Club about the victim in the case saying that some people “need to be killed.”
The State Commission’s reprimand finished, saying, “Finally, the commission concludes that Judge Clifford’s initial lack of candor during the commission’s investigation into these allegations proved to be an aggravating factor in reaching a final decision.”
In the United States, it is in the hands of the judiciary that the legitimacy and protection of our laws is ultimately placed. There is a reason that we have a Texas Code of Judicial Conduct; the integrity of our courts is imperative to the maintenance of the rule of law. When our judges fail to keep this standard, it is the duty of the people to hold them accountable.