ONE of the wackiest
issues on election ballots anywhere next
month is in South Dakota, where
residents will have the opportunity to
strip judges of the legal immunity that
helps them carry out their official
That would be a
dangerous move backward for the American
legal system, one South Dakotans should
reject out of hand.
Amendment E, as it's
known out on the northern plains, is the
product of some obviously off-kilter
conspiratorialists - out of California,
where else? - who have it in for the
judicial branch of government.
Conceived under the
catchy banner, "Jail for Judges," the
amendment would create a special grand
jury to review complaints of what its
supporters claim, with little concrete
evidence, is widespread abuse of
This is the doctrine that
says that judges cannot be held liable
in civil actions "for tortious acts or
omissions done within the scope of their
jurisdiction or authority." It helps
preserve judicial independence, one of
the cornerstones of the legal system.
The likely result of
Amendment E would be to create an avenue
of malicious mischief for every legal
defendant who comes away from court
unhappy with a judicial decision.
Personal grudges could result in
complaints and a flood of frivolous
litigation that could overwhelm the
Judicial immunity, it
should be noted, does not protect judges
from prosecution or discipline for
criminal wrongdoing, so there is plenty
of opportunity for redress against rogue
And, as opponents of
the amendment note, dissatisfied parties
can simply appeal a judge's decision.
In addition, judges can
be disciplined or removed from the bench
for misconduct through the state's
judicial qualifications commission.
Moreover, South Dakota employs an
unusual "right of recusal," which
provides for removal of a judge from a
case if there is a doubt about fairness.
well-founded suggestions that
prosecutors, jurors, and a host of other
officials, from school board members to
professional licensing boards, could
fall under the scattershot of Amendment
E, the issue is opposed by virtually
every civic, business, and political
group in South Dakota.
That doesn't mean there's
a conspiracy against the amendment, as
its supporters would imply.
It just means it's a
bad idea, and maybe even a recipe for