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    Senate committee votes to change judges' rules

    BY PHILLIP RAWLS
    02/14/2002

    Alabama legislators are getting involved in the disciplinary process for judges while a complaint is pending against state Supreme Court Justice Harold See.

    The Senate Judiciary Committee voted 8-7 Thursday for two bills changing the rules for the state Judicial Inquiry Commission, which acts like a grand jury to hear complaints against judges, and the state Court of the Judiciary, which disciplines judges for improper conduct.

    The two bills now go to the Senate for consideration.

    The legislation comes while the Court of the Judiciary has before it a complaint accusing See of using misleading ads against Roy Moore in the 2000 race for chief justice, which Moore won.

    Opponents said the Legislature shouldn't get involved in changing the rules. "I don't believe the Legislature is the place to solve these problems," said Sen. Hap Myers, R-Mobile.

    Proponents said Moore and a majority of the justices on the Alabama Supreme Court issued new rules for the Judicial Inquiry Commission and the Court of the Judiciary last fall that made it harder to investigate and discipline judges.

    Jefferson County Circuit Judge Mac Parsons and state Criminal Appeals Court Judge Sue Bell Cobb said the Legislature needs to change the rules to make sure incompetent judges can be removed from office.

    "It is a sad day when a chief justice who is nationally known for his stand on the Ten Commandments would join with four other Supreme Court justices in order to make it virtually impossible to investigate or remove a judge who is suspected of violating one of those commandments. The canons of judicial conduct are our commandments," Cobb said.

    Twinkle Andress, director of Alabama Citizens for a Sound Economy, said the Supreme Court needed to set new rules because the Judicial Inquiry Commission had shown a preference for investigating Republican judges, beginning with Moore when he was a circuit judge and then See in his 2000 race.

    Cobb, a former member of the Court of the Judiciary, insists the process is not political. She said the last judge removed from office by the Court of the Judiciary was a Democratic probate judge in 1999.

    One bill approved by the Senate committee would allow the Judicial Inquiry Commission to develop its own rules, rather than the Supreme Court doing it.

    The other bill would rewrite several of the Supreme Court's new rules for disciplining judges, including one requiring a unanimous vote from the Court of the Judiciary to remove a judge from office. The bill provides for a majority vote on any disciplinary matter.

    Voting for the bills were Sens. Roger Bedford, D-Russellville; George Clay, D-Tuskegee; Charles Langford, D-Montgomery; Pat Lindsey, D-Butler; Hank Sanders, D-Selma; Charles Steele, D-Tuscaloosa; Vivian Davis Figures, D-Mobile; and Rodger Smitherman, D-Birmingham.

    Voting against them were Sens. Myers; Zeb Little, D-Cullman; Larry Dixon, R-Montgomery; Curt Lee, R-Jasper; Albert Lipscomb, R-Magnolia Springs; Dell Marsh, R-Anniston; and Jabo Waggoner, R-Vestavia Hills.

    The two bills are sponsored by Senate President Pro Tem Lowell Barron, D-Fyffe, who had a $5.2 million verdict he won against Alfa insurance overturned by the Alabama Supreme Court in July.

    by PHILLIP RAWLS on 2/14/02.