Sunday, September 21, 2003

Chief Justice Hassell on judicial freedom

Last week, the Richmond Times-Dispatch published this commentary by Chief Justice Leroy Hassell of the Virginia Supreme Court, about the judiciary. Among other things, he said:

"Every litigant has an absolute right to have his or her case decided by an impartial judge who will not be influenced by political, social, or economic considerations."

"We must always remember that the lack of judicial independence and the king's obstruction of the administration of justice, along with his failure to accord the colonists basic legal rights such as the right of trial by jury, were important factors that our nation's Founders relied on to justify their separation from Great Britain and their decision to embark on a new form of government that provided the basis of our democracy."

"The General Assembly, in the discharge of its constitutional obligation to elect judges, should elect only individuals to serve as judges who understand both the importance of judicial independence and the proper role of each branch of government. When electing judges, the legislature must assess the candidate's ability, experience, integrity, judicial philosophy, judicial temperament, and view of the role of the judiciary. However, when the General Assembly discharges this constitutional responsibility, it must be careful to avoid any actions that diminish the independence of the judiciary."

"As judges, we must be ever mindful that we are stewards of the public trust. We must discharge our constitutional and statutorily prescribed responsibilities with diligence, humility, compassion, and competence. We always must exhibit respect and courtesy to the thousands of persons who appear each day in the courtrooms of this Commonwealth."

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