When judges fail, they should leave

Ed Murnane Dec. 17, 2006, 6:51am

What if Abel Muhammad had died?

What if it was a car load of kids coming home from a Sunday evening church school event and the car was hit by an intoxicated driver coming home from the St. Louis Rams football game? And they all died?

Fortunately they didn't. No one did. And there was not a car load of kids. So that part of the story is fiction.

But what is not fiction is the part of the story – and police reports – that say two St. Clair County judges, including the chief judge, were returning from last Sunday's St. Louis Rams football game and the driver, new Judge Patrick Young collided with the car driven by Abel Muhammad. Abel Muhammad was taken to the hospital.

The police officer who responded, and others who provided support, all indicated that a strong smell of alcohol was present. Judge Young refused to take a field sobriety test and has been charged with driving while under the influence of alcohol. According to police reports, Chief Judge Jan Fiss (who was in the car) was seen with an open can of Bud Light beer, which he emptied and then tried to conceal the empty can before throwing it away.

Judges are human beings and all human beings make mistakes.

But judges are – and should be – held to a higher standard, a much higher standard.

Judges have unique and unequaled power and authority. They are empowered to send people to prison for life, or to death. They are empowered to break up families – to take children away from parents, to decide whether adoptive parents are better than natural parents, and turn life upside down for families, including young children. Judges can enact or approve verdicts that destroy businesses while making lawyers extremely rich.

It is not unreasonable to expect – to demand – judges to be held to that higher standard.

They ought to minimally be held to a standard that says you don't break the law. They ought to minimally be held to a standard that says you exercise common sense at all times. They ought to minimally be held to a standard that says you don't try to skirt the law by concealing evidence.

When they don't they ought to be removed.

The police reports in St. Clair County last weekend suggest that two judges ought to be removed because they have failed to meet the first responsibility of their position: good judgment.

This is not about politics, about Democrats or Republicans. This is not about tort reform, not about asbestos law suits, not about trial lawyers. It's about judgment – the single most important quality that we expect of judges – maybe that's why they have the title?

Illinois has a former governor who exercised poor judgment and he's waiting to begin a prison term.

When public officials who are paid with our taxes, who are entrusted with our lives and safety, who are considered the arbiters of right and wrong … when they fail us, there is no other choice but that they be replaced. There ARE good men and women who would fulfill the job with honor, integrity and good judgment.

What if Abel Muhammad had a car load of kids, and what if they all died?

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