The D.C. Judicial Tenure Commission has wide legal authority to judge the merits of D.C. Superior Court judges for reappointment and acted properly in the case of D.C. Superior Court Judge Charles W. Halleck, a U.S. judge ruled yesterday.
At the same time, U.S. District Senior Judge Roszel C. Thomsen said the commission also has the power to make public statement about the conduct of sitting judges without removing them from the bench. The conduct, however, must be such that the judge could be removed from the bench for it if the commission wished, Thomsen said.
The ruling, made in a suit filed by Judge Halleck, is the first court decision outlining the authority of the judicial commission that was formed under the home rule act.
Halleck's suit challenged the constitutionality of the commission, its actions in finding him merely "qualified" for reappointment in September, 1975, and its handling of current disciplinary actions pending against him.
President Ford, forwarded Halleck's name to the Senate for confirmation, but the Senate never acted on the nomination, after public reports that confidential disciplinary proceedings were under way against Hallect before the commission.
Ford did not resubmit Halleck's name before leaving office, and President Carter has taken no action on it.
Halleck has claimed that the commission was biased against him and that it conspired with the U.S. Attorney's Office and the press to block his nomination.
Judge Thomsen said he found no evidence of such a bias or a conspiracy and said the commission gave "fair and impartial consideration" to Halleck's reappointment.
Thomsen also rejected Halleck's argument that the commission violated his right to free speech by questioning comments he made from the bench.
"A judge's constitutional right to say what he pleases, from the bench is not without limits," Thomsen said. "The First Amendment does not completely insulate a judge from discipline for judicial misconduct which happens to take the form of speech."
The current disciplinary proceedings against Halleck concern comments he made on three occasions: once during a sentencing, another time when he told a U.S. marshal to return a document to a prosecutor and to tell him "to shove it . . .," and another instance where he allegedly verbally abused an employee of St. Elizabeth's Hospital during a telephone conversation.
The commission held its disciplinary hearing on Halleck last month, but has been blocked from issuing any statement on it pending Thomsen's order. Thomsen said yesterday the commission could not issue any statement until Halleck had a chance to appeal his ruling.
Halleck's attorney, John W. Karr, said the ruling would be appealed.