Starr delves into role of American courts
Former independent counsel Ken Starr quizzed judges from across the country yesterday on judicial independence, impartiality and the role of the courts in America.
Starr, who is known for his probe of the Monica Lewinsky scandal that led to the impeachment of President Clinton, asked a panel of judges to explain the inner workings of the U.S. justice system in a way that the public can understand.
Starr said "there is a great misunderstanding" about how the judiciary works and how judges make their decisions. He cited a poll by the American Bar Association in which about half of the respondents couldn't identify the three branches of government.
He moderated the panel titled, "What Do Judges Do? Being a Judge in America," at the ABA's annual meeting in Honolulu.
"Should Americans, should school students, have confidence as they look ahead to the integrity now of the judicial process?" Starr asked the judges.
The judges all said they do not let their personal opinions influence their rulings.
"Justices are not there to do the popular thing," said Judge Louis Condon, who sat as Master in Equity for Charleston County, S.C. from 1975 to 1995. "Activist judges are people who make opinions contrary to what you want them to decide. People get upset and blame the judges. Well, we don't write the laws. We shouldn't write the laws."
Starr, 60, currently serves as dean of Pepperdine University's School of Law.
Starr kept the conversation on-topic as he quickly directed questions at each of the judges on the panel. "Why do we ask judges not to comment on pending cases?" he asked. "Why do judges wear robes?"
The judges responded that they should not voice an opinion before they know the outcome of a case, and that their robes are meant to show their impartiality.
"The members of the judiciary are of the highest integrity," said Mary Ester Coster Williams, a judge on the U.S. Court of Federal Claims. "You out there have checks on us. All of our opinions are made public. You can come into our courtroom at any time and observe our demeanor and see how we act on your behalf."
The question-and-answer session was videotaped and will be distributed to help educate the public and law students about how judges go about their jobs.