54 RI Bar J., No. 1, Pg. 15 (July/August 2005). Killing Justice: The Judiciary Under Siege.

AuthorHon. Frank J. Williams

Rhode Island Bar Journal

Volume 54.

54 RI Bar J., No. 1, Pg. 15 (July/August 2005).

Killing Justice: The Judiciary Under Siege

July/August 2005pg. 15Killing Justice: The Judiciary Under SiegeHon. Frank J. WilliamsChief Justice of the Rhode Island Supreme Court2005 Rhode Island Bar Association Annual Meeting Address.The judicial branch is a citadel of justice. A partnership of lawyers and judges, the Judiciary continues to build a commanding legacy of equality and individual freedom. But today, it seems the judiciary is under threat - subject to an unrelenting barrage of verbal assaults, economic restraint, political stress and even physical attacks.The physical violence waged against members of the judiciary is the most glaring example of the national crisis at hand. Even in Rhode Island, we are not insulated from physical threats - it takes only one envelope with a trace of white powder to remind us of our vulnerability.For us, these physical threats are just one element, one horrifying element, of the challenges facing the judicial system and threatening judicial independence. Political pressure and agenda-driven criticism also fray the fabric of judicial independence.Without a doubt, public dialogue is healthy for all aspects of our government, including our judiciary. But, I am concerned that recently the debate about judicial issues has become personal. And the current trend is especially worrisome because the sentiments are being voiced not just by a powerless fringe, but by those in positions of power. And this has to stop.When judges and attorneys are publicly belittled, the once bright line between heated, respectful debate and mean-spirited, agenda-laden accusations is eroded. Attempts to vilify the judiciary have become so pervasive that there is no public outrage when attorneys are accused of cowardice or when judges are referred to as "black robed tyrants" over the airwaves.And, when you attempt to set the record straight, you are often ignored in favor of the more flamboyant quotes. You never saw the letter by Rhode Island Bar Association President Jametta O. Alston defending the integrity of the judicial system. Attorney John Tarantino's excellent commentary to the Providence Journal was published, but not without a gratuitous and inaccurate postscript added by the editors questioning Mr. Tarantino's honesty and mine...

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