The policymaking body of the Amercian Bar Association yesterday approved standards for disciplining federal judges as well as state judges.
"Even federal judges should be responsible to someone," Arizona Chief Justice James Duke Cameron told the ABA's House of Delegates, which is meeting here. The standards, which were not binding on the federal judiciary or state governments, were adopted by voice vote.
Cameron headed an ABA committee - composed of members of the Appellate Judges' Conference and the Standing Committee on Professional Discipline - that made a two-year study of what should be done about judges who engage in misconduct or who should be retired because of disability.
The federal judiciary and several states have no programs to deal with these problems. Some states have programs rated inadequate by the joint committee, while others have programs considered satisfactory.
For federal judges, the committee report suggested that the Supreme Court consider "an appropriate disciplinary structure" to provide "an accessible means to receive and process complaints from the public and the legal profession."
Under the Constitution, federal life, subject only to removal by Congress.
The committee recognized that the court has no authority under the Constitution to remove the judges, but said that the court "may be administrative order provide procedures" to investigate and to discipline by reprimand and by refusal to assign cases.
The court's authority to issue such orders derives from its "inherent power," the committee said. But it acknowledged that its interpretation of inherent power "is not widely accepted" - particularly by "what may well be a majority" of the court.
It said that, in theory, a constitutional amendment could be enacted to set up a disciplinary system, but conceded that "would be a cumbersome process which would take years to accomplish.
A third possibility would be a law defining "good behavior" so as to make it practical to discipline federal judges short of impeachment.
As listed in the report, the grounds of disciplining a judge are a felony conviction, willful misconduct in office, willful misconduct that "brings the judicial office into disrepute" conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice and "any conduct that constitutes a violation of the codes of judicial conduct or professional responsibility."