The Boston Globe yesterday morning had an article about a Massachusetts's supreme court decision that judges can't be forced to disclose their reasoning when they made their rulings to ethics investigators, a holding "that creates a 'judicial deliberative privilege' in Massachusetts for the first time."
The case was that of Boston Municipal Court Judge Raymond G. Dougan, whose rulings had led Suffolk District Attorney Daniel F. Conley to file a complaint with the state's Commission on Judicial Conduct, alleging Dougan violated ethical guidelines when dealing with criminal cases from Boston. The commission, in turn, subpoenaed Dougan's notes and any other materials he relied on when making his decisions in Suffolk County courtrooms – which led to the supreme court's involvement.
Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court Justice Robert Cordy, in writing for the Court, said "judges must not fear that the issues, laws, and personal views that underlie their rulings will be displayed to the public."
"The judiciary's independence from the other branches of government and from outside influences and extraneous concerns has been one of the cornerstones of our constitutional democracy, intended to ensure that judges will be free to decide cases on the law and the facts as their best judgment dictates, without fear or favor,"’ he wrote. "Protecting judges from the post hoc probing of their mental processes also ensures the integrity and quality of judicial decision-making," he added.
"This absolute privilege covers a judge's mental impressions and thought processes in reaching a judicial decision, whether harbored internally or memorialized in other nonpublic materials," he said. "The privilege also protects confidential communications among judges and between judges and court staff made in the course of and related to their deliberative processes in particular cases."
While making it clear that the Judicial Conduct Commission should continue its inquiry into the allegations of bias by Dougan in numerous cases, Cordy said to do so by using already available sources of information.
The text of the Court's decision can be accessed here.