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Watchdog Group Wants Judiciary Held Accountable

  • A group advocating judicial accountability is pushing for a ballot initiative that would allow citizens to punish judges for wrongdoing.
Exclusive to The Spotlight
By Margo Turner

A ballot initiative that would permit the formation of special citizen tribunals to crack down on law-breaking judges could be considered by voters in 22 states.

Another 17 states are targeted for the same constitutional amendment, known as the Judicial Accountability Initiative Law (J.A.I.L.). The initiative is proposed by Ronald Branson, a Los Angeles County litigant in California and founder of J.A.I.L. for Judges.

California tops the list of states where J.A.I.L. for Judges hopes to have the initiative on the ballot.


In California, J.A.I.L. would eliminate the broad civil liability immunity judges enjoy and establish three 25-member "special grand juries" to investigate, indict and, through a special trial jury, sentence jurists for criminal misconduct.

Operating special grand juries would cost California $18 million annually, according to Branson. He proposes deducting 2.5 percent from the gross annual payroll of that state's judges, magistrates and commissioners to pay for the grand juries.

Branson and his J.A.I.L. advocates, which include a trio of Southern Califor nia lawyers, failed to obtain the necessary signatures to have their constitutional amendment qualify for the Novem ber ballot in California. The setback hasn't de terred them from their objective, Branson told The SPOTLIGHT.

"We have until 2002 to qualify J.A.I.L. for the next [California] ballot," Branson said. He said states on board in the order the ballot initiative was adopted are Washing ton, Georgia, Arkansas, Mon tana, Idaho, Oregon, Maine, North Caro li na, Nevada, Pennsylvania, Oklahoma, Michi gan, Flor ida, Mississip pi, North Dakota, Colorado, Alaska, Ari zona, Ne bras ka, Ohio and Illinois.


Targeted for the ballot initiative are Delaware, Hawaii, Indiana, Louisiana, Missouri, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont, Virginia and Wisconsin.

A Baptist minister, Branson taught himself about the law. His goal is to give the citizenry the power to ensure judicial accountability and integrity.

Branson has had his share of run-ins with the law. He unsuccessfully pursued 13 cases up to the Supreme Court.

His current battle is with the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. The court refuses to take judicial notice of the facts of Branson's complaint over a city of Los Angeles parking ticket.

The 9th Circuit judges ruled that the federal court does not have jurisdiction over Branson's case, threw the case out of court and fined the Baptist minister $112,000 in attorney fees and court costs for filing frivolous appeals.

Branson claimed the case is "a classic example of why J.A.I.L. is so necessary."

"J.A.I.L. is not designed to usurp existing laws or the system as we know it," he explained. "J.A.I.L. kicks in only after the system has been given every opportunity to work with all existing laws and procedures put to the test.

"Branson has drafted a similar bill, 'Judicial Accountability and Integrity,' for introduction in Congress. Rep. Ron Paul (R-Tex.) is 'singled out' to sponsor the legislation in the House," Branson said.

Rep. John Duncan (R-Tenn.) recently forwarded Branson's proposed legislation to House Judiciary Committee Chairman Henry Hyde (R-Ill.), who has sponsored previous bills concerning judicial corruption by federal judges.

Hyde introduced the "Judicial Reform Act of 1997" (H.R. 1252), which would have modified the procedures of the federal courts in certain matters. The bill passed the House on April 23, 1998, but was not acted on by the Senate.

Rep. Howard Coble (R-N.C.) sponsored similar legislation, H.R. 1752, in May 1999. A hearing on the bill was held two months later, but no action has been taken.