HALT's 2008 Judicial Accountability Report Card found that state and federal systems of judicial oversight are shrouded in secrecy.  Although most jurisdictions no longer prohibit citizens from disclosing information about an ethics complaint against a judge, a whopping 17 states and the federal circuits continue to retain some form of gag rule. 

"In an era that embraces principles of sunshine and transparency, it's astounding that citizens across the country are restrained from speaking about the misconduct of state and federal judges," stated HALT Senior Counsel Suzanne M. Blonder.  "Gag rules not only violate an individual's right to free speech, they also keep the general public in the dark about whether the system of judicial oversight is operating effectively."

The restrictive rules range from those which require complainants to remain silent only in certain contexts to those that strictly forbid individuals from speaking about a judge's misconduct until a judicial conduct commission orders public discipline. 

Nevada, New Hampshire and the federal circuits maintain modified gag rules.  In New Hampshire, the grievant may not even mention an ethics complaint to family members or friends until the state's Judicial Conduct Committee files formal charges against the judge, dismisses a grievance or informally resolves the matter. 

Fourteen states-Alaska, Arkansas, Colorado, Georgia, Hawaii, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Massachusetts, Mississippi, North Carolina, Ohio, Virginia and Wyoming-go a step further, barring all speech about judicial misconduct until public discipline is ordered.

Some of these states threaten citizens with criminal sanctions for daring to speak publicly about a judge's misconduct.  The complaint form provided by Arkansas' Judicial Discipline and Disability Commission informs complainants: "Any information contained in this letter or received from you is strictly confidential . . . .  Any person who violates this confidentiality requirement is subject to punishment for contempt of the Arkansas Supreme Court." 

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