The Judicial Conduct Board, created to protect citizens from errant judges, is criticized as doing just the opposite.
One of state government's most secretive agencies is housed near the end of a hallway on the third floor of the Pennsylvania Judicial Center, just across Commonwealth Avenue from the Capitol.
A piece of ordinary white bond paper, tucked into a protective plastic sleeve and taped to a window at the entrance, says "Judicial Conduct Board" in half-inch letters.
There is a small waiting room in Suite 3500, but the door leading to the inner offices is marked with two signs: "Confidential Area. Do Not Enter Beyond This Point" and "The Procedures of the JCB Are Confidential. The Use of Cameras and All Recording Devices Is Prohibited."
The board was created in 1993 to protect Pennsylvania citizens from judges who abuse their power, either ethically or criminally. But recent revelations about its procedures and activities have led some critics to suggest a role reversal in which the JCB's focus is to look after the interests of Pennsylvania's 1,200 judges.
"The outrage is that the JCB believes it is more important to protect members of the judiciary than to protect the citizens the judiciary is supposed to serve," says Tim Potts, executive director of Democracy Rising PA, a nonprofit governmental-reform group.
"The judges don't need protection," adds Robert L. Byer, a former Commonwealth Court judge. "They already have lots of that. They're even immune from being sued for almost anything they do in the courtroom. It's the public that needs protection from rogue judges."
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Oversight of PA Judges is Wrapped in Secrecy