Just to be sure, we double-checked Black's Law Dictionary. There is still a definition in there for "ethics." For those interested, here's the important part: "The foremost concepts and principles of proper human conduct."
We're curious about our local judges and their understanding of "proper human conduct." Would that include giving someone a job when they could not properly perform 40 percent of it? Would it be proper to inject a person into a trial who could vastly increase the chances of an appeal?
That sure looks like what they did when eight judges from the 20th Judicial Circuit thought it would be good to give their retiring brother a little side job.
Dennis Hatch at age 59 retired from his $179,654 circuit judge job in Washington County and started collecting $120,977 in retirement pay. Eight judges decided there was nothing wrong with the guy who oversaw so much of Washington County's docket becoming that county's public defender, which pays $51,500 and puts him back at nearly full judge's salary with retirement.
Hatch has been saved from the spectre of eating cat food by this second generous public paycheck, but he's been removed from four of the 10 cases he could have defended and taxpayers are funding replacements. Chief Judge John Baricevic didn't seem to understand the ethical or practical issues behind the prosecutor's four objections to Hatch. "For whatever reason, he did object," Baricevic said.
We think most folks could apply some common sense to understand why, but for the Baricevics of the world, a former law professor who co-wrote the American Bar Association's code of judicial ethics spelled it out. William Hodes said a judge could have gained extra knowledge about a case that would not normally be available to a public defender. Had Hatch made any substantive rulings on a case, he could give either the defendant or the prosecutor grounds for appeal.
"It would be much wiser, cheaper and more ethical for him to come off of any pending case," Hodes said.
From our vantage point, none of those three concerns made it into the Hatch deliberations.