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Sunday, September 21, 2014

Scioto Common Pleas Candidates Both Say We Need Integrity

I see election signs promoting two candidates for Scioto County Common Pleas Court Judge. Is it just a coincidence that men running for office chose the word integrity to promote their character, or are they each purposely implying that their opponent does not possess the virtue? Possibly, the intention involves a little of both.

Campaign signs often feature stock phrases and slogans as promotional statements or claims that expresses subjective rather than objective views. A claim of integrity is common for those seeking judicial offices. After all, we expect our judges to be strong-willed, moral, honest men. And, of course, we hope they have great integrity, but it takes more than a few words on a campaign sign to convince the people that judges here earn that much respect.

In any case, integrity is a concept of consistency of actions, values, methods, measures, principles, expectations, and outcomes. It is a very demanding quality in short supply. A person claiming to have integrity follows a code of especially moral values. It is a virtue that must be maintained and never compromised.

In the courtroom, integrity insures that a judge cannot favor a corrupt, "political favor-type" system. The justice system requires maintenance of a strict, impartial process that citizens can trust. As fissures in integrity surface, such as fraud and corruption, people lose confidence in the judicial process. They understand that judgment and retribution in a defective system depend upon "who you are" more than about "what you have done." Nepotism in the courthouse is highly poisonous and worthy of public distrust.

Partial politics have no business in the courtroom. Fellow Good Old Boys and common citizens must be judged by the same standards with the same impartiality. Also, judges and lawyers must be held accountable to the same ethical standards they require in the community, and full transparency is necessary to assure the public that "favors and kickbacks and illegal fringe benefits" do not exist.

An ethically compromised judiciary means that the legal and institutional mechanism designed to curb corruption -- however well-targeted, efficient or honest -- remains crippled. If a judge is corrupt, it is the duty of others in the justice system to remove him from office. If they allow known corruption, they sustain injustice.

So what, exactly, is required of a judge who claims integrity?

Integrity must be understood both as a personal virtue and as the safeguarding of public trust. The judge who possesses integrity cannot be hypocritical. Internal consistency is required. Why?

Integrity is distinct from honesty. It involves unwavering moral behavior in private matters. David L. Miller, senior editor of The Lutheran, speaks of the distinction between honesty and integrity.

"Consider, for example, a dying man who confesses to his wife an adulterous affair that occurred 35 years before. He dies, conscience clear. He was honest. But is this riskless confession an example of integrity or just another self-serving violation of his marriage vows? Or how about the man who says he will support his live-in partner, unless she gets pregnant. Honest? Sure. But integrity? No.

"Nor does living according to a consistent set of principles amount to integrity. Hitler and the murderers of Bosnia also strove for their principles." 

(David L. Miller, "Integrity: Why We Need a Transfusion," The Lutheran, 1996)

According to law professor Stephen L. Carter, integrity in ethics involves not only a refusal to engage in behaviors that evade responsibility but also an understanding of different modes or styles in which written and spoken communication attempt to uncover a particular truth.

(Stephen L. Carter, Integrity, 1996)  

Carter says that integrity requires three steps:

(1) Discerning what is right and what is wrong,

(2) Acting on what you have discerned, even at personal cost, and

(3) Saying openly that you are acting on your understanding of right from wrong.

Do the candidates for Common Pleas Court "walk the walk"? Or, are the signs merely empty words on paper? I can tell you this: discernment, action, and openness are a tall order. In the political climate of Southern Ohio, achieving all three is rare, indeed.

If the public in Scioto County believes those in the local system practice full-blown integrity, they are in the minority. The Justice Department is responsible for the enforcement of the law and the administration of justice in the United States. Many people are dissatisfied with the way the system works.

A new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds that 38% of likely U.S. voters have at least a somewhat favorable opinion of the Justice Department, while 53% view it unfavorably. This includes only nine percent (9%) with a Very Favorable view and 26% with a Very Unfavorable one.

Just 35% think the Justice Department is more concerned with making sure justice is done when it decides to investigate a local crime independent of local police. But 54% think instead that the Justice Department is more concerned with politics when it makes those decisions. Eleven percent (11%) are undecided.

(Publication: "Questions -- Department of Justice." August 26-27, 2014)

How do people feel about the highest court of the land -- the Supreme Court? The latest survey by the Pew Research Center, conducted April 23-27, 2014, among 1,501 adults, finds that 56% have a favorable view of the court, having rebounded from historic lows reached in the summer of 2013. 35% have an unfavorable view.

Golden Rules and Local Courtrooms
Which local candidate has integrity? I guess this is the big issue -- the one we Scioto Countians must determine to assure that our vote is righteous -- since both men are making such a fuss about the need for the same virtue in the courthouse. Is is certain one thinks he has integrity while he implies his opponent does not.

As stories and accusations abound about each man's integrity, you can take you pick about what to believe to determine your vote. The streets and meeting places are ripe with talk. Is this really a classic choice of the lesser of two evils as some believe?\

One fact is clear -- someone is going to be elected. Will it really matter? Will the winner actually judge with integrity? I think the claims and blames of the candidates are secondary to a higher issue, an issue that directly relates to all virtuous justice. Our county is in sore need of transparency: not open political statements and select news censored to fit the nepotism long ingrained in this area, but revelation of the business workings of local courts.

If a judge does not believe the public knows about dirty deals and corrupt associations, he is unfit to rule because he is unwise in his egotism. Instead of promoting fairness, he is a proponent of "slick" maneuverings and legal wranglings to keep the higher class in control over those he perceives as second-class dupes. No integrity is involved in this king of judgment.

Professing character is easily achieved by printing words on paper; it is not easily achieved by being consistent in employment and in action.

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