A judge could go to jail for handing down a court ruling in that someone disagreed with if an effort is successful to put the Judicial Accountability Initiative Law (J.A.I.L.) on the ballot. William Stegmeier, a Tea manufacturing company owner, is heading up the effort with support from people around the country.
At the center of their concern is a feeling that judges think they rise above the law in what the initiative's backers call a self-made doctrine of judicial immunity, he says.
So his group of about 30 volunteers, South Dakotans for Judicial Accountability, is circulating petitions across the state from the Sioux Empire Fair to the Sturgis bike rally.
They need 33,456 signatures by Nov. 7 to be on the ballot, says Kea Warne, state election supervisor.
Stegmeier estimates the group has gathered 10,000 names.
He admits there isn't yet much of a problem with the issue of judicial accountability in South Dakota "We are not known for judicial corruption that I know of. It's not a big problem like it is in states like California, Mississippi," he said.
But he says that doesn't mean the initiative isn't necessary.
"Some have the argument, 'What kind of problem are you trying to solve?' Maybe you don't have a problem, but you buy homeowner's insurance before you have a problem," Stegmeier said.
He explains the process if the initiative becomes law.
"As an example: You go to court. You are the defendant. You want to enter evidence and help your case, and the judge won't allow it. You appeal the case and lose on the grounds you think the judge acts improperly. The appellate court denies your case, and you file it with a special grand jury," Stegmeier said.
That grand jury, selected from a pool of registered voters through the Secretary of State's Office, would be seated.
"They hear the complaint. They rule whether the judge should enjoy immunity from lawsuits. If they find for you, the next step is to sue the judge. If they deny you, that's it," Stegmeier said.
The grand jury also could consider whether there is probable cause of criminal conduct by the judge.
The objective, say initiative supporters, is to fulfill their responsibility to empower the people to act when they feel they are wronged.
"That is one of the nuttiest things I have ever heard," says George Wuest, a retired Supreme Court justice from Mitchell.
"People already have the power. They elected the judges, and if they don't like them, they can throw them out," Wuest said.
Good idea, says Dr. Allen Unruh, a Sioux Falls chiropractor who supports the initiative.
"I think judges all over the country are getting out of control. Our forefathers devised a system of checks and balances, but never for judges doing what they are doing, reinterpreting the constitution and undermining the people," he said.
He says judges don't have the power to override the vote of all the people in the country.
"South Dakota will be the first to challenge Roe vs. Wade, to throw judges in jail if they violate the constitution," he said. "There will be a grand jury if they legislate from the bench."
David Kranz's column appears Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. Write to him at the Argus Leader, Box 5034 Sioux Falls, SD 57117-5034
Ron Branson Responds To David
David, I have had many years of experience as a background in dealing with the courts prior to writing the J.A.I.L. Initiative. This experience encompasses eighteen years and fourteen cases before the United States Supreme Court. There are relatively few attorneys who can make such an acclamation. I have received commendations from judges such as, "Mr. Branson, in all my twenty years on the bench, I have never once found anybody like you." A certain judge in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals knows me personally and recuses himself every time I come before him. I am in the law books both state and federal. I did not, for light or transient reasons write the J.A.I.L. Initiative. Every one of its provisions has a real and living experience behind it. If you were to wade through the thousands of pages of real cases behind it and could comprehend even a fraction of why J.A.I.L. came about, you would shake your head.
For instance, the law in California, not unsimular to S.D., gives a judge 90 days to decide a matter submitted by him, "The judge shall hear and shall render judgment in plaintiff's favor," and the Chief Counsel of the Legislature realizes that the law is good, but it cannot be enforced, saying, "This is a real head-scratcher," and yet the case has been without a decision for more than twelve years despite the law that commands it or the judge forfeits his salary, and the judge commits felony perjury every month for twelve years in swearing he has complied with the law in rendering a decision within 90 days.
Now your first point is, "A judge could go to jail for handing down a court ruling in that someone disagreed with if an effort is successful to put the Judicial Accountability Initiative Law (J.A.I.L.) on the ballot.
Around 1999 an attorney for the appellate judges here in California wrote to me with a similar argument. He attacked me saying, "I have read your entire Initiative, and I ask you why is you wish to take down a judge merely because he makes a mistake?" Just as your point, I loved his criticism. I told him that he was indicative of the very reason we need the passage of J.A.I.L.
I told him that he was just like the judges he advises, for he cannot deal with the real issue before him. I told him that if he had truly read the entire Initiative as he says he did, then how is it he missed paragraph 2 which in the South Dakota Initiative says, "No immunity shall extend to any judge of this State for any deliberate violation of law, fraud or conspiracy, intentional violation of due process of law, deliberate disregard of material facts, judicial acts without jurisdiction, blocking of a lawful conclusion of a case, or any deliberate violation of the Constitutions of South Dakota or the United States..." I asked him to point out to which phrase he referred in stating I was going after judges for "merely making a mistake."
I told him that I do not mind him critiquing J.A.I.L., but please critique it for what it says, not for what you wish to make up that J.A.I.L. says. So now, David, just as this attorney, I ask you to point out to which phase supports your argument, and I quote you, "A judge could go to jail for handing down a court ruling in that someone disagreed with..." This, as you know, is a put up or shut up argument. The burden now shifts to you to show that a judge could go to jail because someone disagreed with his ruling. You know that no such thing exists there in, and now so does everyone else. Until I am convinced other wise, I will assume for the time being that this was just an innocent oversight on your part, and you now know better. Hey, we all make mistakes from time to time, and this was just an oversight on your part. Certainly you had no motive to deceive your ArgusLeader readers. And just to show you how nice I am, I am not going to ask or demand you print a retraction. But I do think it would be highly commendable if you did tell your readers that you printed a foopa (untruth) in you criticism of J.A.I.L. on August 28, 2005. Hey, I want to be your friend that you respect as one who knows what he is talking about. If I were in the position to do so, I would call you up and ask you if I could take you out to dinner at my expense.
While technically correct, your words could be misunderstood by your readers when you say, "William Stegmeier, a Tea manufacturing company owner." It is not clear to me that everyone would clearly understand that "Tea" is the name of the town in which he manufactures, as opposed to him manufacturing a beverage. Just a point I think needs clarification.
As far as the need for J.A.I.L. in South Dakota in dealing with judicial corruption, I was one of the people out there in South Dakota collecting signatures. I talked with a 31-year retired South Dakota sheriff who told me he knew well the corruption of South Dakota judges and that J.A.I.L. was greatly needed there. This is not hearsay. He told me this to my face, and we will be placing his testimony on our South Dakota website. Another signer told me he was not afraid to sign. He said that he knew of two judges who belong in prison, not on the bench. I asked to be sure he was talking about South Dakota judges, and he said, "Absolutely, I am talking about right here in Deadwood."
David, you show your ignorance on the subject when you say, "what the backers call a self-made doctrine of judicial immunity." I realize you do not claim to be an attorney, and for that matter, neither do I. But anyone with any basic knowledge of law knows this has nothing to do with "the backers of J.A.I.L," for this doctrine of judicial immunity goes back into the 1800, and you can read about it in every law library in the country.
Okay, so your not a attorney and have not studied this. So what. But to imply that the doctrine of judicial immunity is a term invented by "the J.A.I.L. backers," is misleading. So now you know, and so does everybody else. A bit of research before writing your critique may have helped you to convinced your readers you knew your subject prior to sticking your foot in your mouth and showing your ignorance on your subject. I'm here to help you, David. Why during my door-to-door signature gathering I met a courthouse janitor who knew judges are covered by judicial immunity. She was just leaving home to go to work
From my short track record in South Dakota of going door-to-door, had I continued, I would have draw our a great load of dirty laundry on the South Dakota. Frankly, I had no idea that it was as bad as I was hearing. out of a relatively few doors I heard a great deal about judicial corruption, and I am sure that once J.A.I.L. hits the South Dakota ballot, you too will be surprised.
So now that you know that judges have immunity, you need to now study what that means. I'll give you a clue. It means that no matter how willful or malicious a judge is, or how disrespectful he is to the law or the Constitution which he has sworn to uphold, he is immune. He is accountable to no one. He can do whatever he chooses, and never has to be concerned that he will have to be accountable to the law that otherwise would call him to account. He can pass laws from the bench, despite he is forbidden from doing so. He can ignore all laws, and is still protected by judicial immunity. Is this what you perceive as the American way? If a judge can disrespect the law, does it not gender disrespect for the law by everyone else? or does this matter to you? I brought up this point up face to face with the attorney for the Governor of California, and I received this response, "Okay, I've got your point." But do they do anything about my point? Nothing. Hey, Judges have judicial immunity! They just cannot be held accountable. I said, "I don't mind these judges breaking the law, I just want the same privilege so I can go out and break the law too, and not be held accountable!"
Now you quote from former Justice George Wuest, "That is one of the nuttiest things I have ever heard," says George Wuest, a retired Supreme Court justice from Mitchell." This is an expected response from one who is a member of the bench. All he has ever experienced is judges covering for judges. But judges judging judges has never worked. Every wrong of any other profession can be redressed in court, but to who does one go when seeking redress of wrong-doing by judge? another judge who is likewise unaccountable.
David, do you find something wrong with "a government of the People, by the People, and for the People, that makes you want to cast that principle aside in favor of a government of an unaccountable judiciary? I am convinced you know better than that. When you were a child did you want you daddy to spank you, or did you lie a little bit to avoid getting a spanking. So why would you expect a retired Supreme Court Justice to admit he should be held accountable to a body of People over his conduct?
I bid you well in responding to all the emails you are going to receive relative to your critique on the need for J.A.I.L.? God bless.
Author/Founder of J.A.I.L., and your friend.
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