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Why The Federal Judiciary Needs An Inspector General

It is time for the federal judiciary to have an inspector general, says Glenn Fine of the Brookings Institution, former inspector general of the Department of Justice. Writing in the Washington Post, Fine notes that the Wall Street Journal has reported that since 2010, 131 judges failed to recuse themselves when they had financial interests related to cases before them. Sexual harassment allegations have been raised against federal judges. The judiciary is responsible for an $8 billion budget and many administrative functions that can be susceptible to inefficiency or waste. An inspector general who handles misconduct complaints and conducts audits of processes, procedures and expenditures could improve operations and increase public confidence in the judicial branch. Yet the judiciary has long resisted an inspector general, Fine says. Opponents say that the courts must maintain institutional and decision-making independence, and that adequate mechanisms exist to handle problems. Chief Justice John Roberts' year-end report noted that the percentage of cases of financial conflicts for judges was small compared with the total number of cases before the courts. Fine says an inspector general should not have any authority over judicial decision-making. In any organization as large as the judiciary, some misconduct, waste and abuse will occur. A dedicated, internal inspector general could help detect, deter and properly investigate problems — and ensure greater public confidence when complaints are not substantiated or dismissed.


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