S.D. Amendment Allowing Judges to be Sued Opposed by Insurer Trades

July 14, 2006

The American Insurance Association (AIA) and the National Association of Mutual Insurance Companies (NAMIC) said today that South Dakota Attorney General Larry Long’s official explanation of a proposed constitutional amendment that would allow citizens to sue judges and other officials for decisions they do not like is “complete, accurate and the product of sound legal judgment.”

The proposal in question, officially titled Amendment E, also is known as the Judicial Accountability Initiative Law (J.A.I.L.). The J.A.I.L. proposal qualified for the November 2006 statewide ballot in South Dakota along with a number of other controversial measures. It would eliminate judges’ immunity from lawsuits and threaten ordinary citizens serving their community.

“If it becomes law, the effect of Amendment E will be felt far beyond the state’s courtrooms, contrary to what J.A.I.L. supporters would have you believe,” said Neil Alldredge, NAMIC’s senior director of state affairs.

“Amendment E would dissolve judicial immunity and allow lawsuits against judges as well as all South Dakota citizen boards, including county commissioners, school board members, planning and zoning board members, public utility commissioners, and professional licensing board members, as well as jurors and prosecutors. Who would want to volunteer for a library board if you could be sued and charged with a crime for making a decision someone didn’t like,” Alldredge said.

If adopted, Amendment E would create a 13-member special grand jury of voters or volunteers selected annually at random who would hear complaints against judges and determine if indictments are warranted. Supporters of Amendment E assume that judicial immunity is absolute and that citizens do not currently have recourse for addressing perceived judicial misconduct. In South Dakota, an appeals process exists that is augmented by a seven-member Judicial Qualifications Commission to review complaints and conduct disciplinary proceedings.

“The attorney general’s analysis is a clear explanation of the very real, and very negative, potential consequences of Amendment E. We believe the South Dakota judicial system serves citizens well, and urge a ‘no’ vote on this radical proposal,” said Steve Schneider, AIA vice president, Midwest Region. “Amendment E would severely alter the state’s constitution and undermine judges’ ability to perform their work without fear of harassment or personal liability for making unpopular or unfavorable decisions.”

Opposition to Amendment E is strong and vocal. Earlier this year, the South Dakota legislature adopted a resolution urging voters to reject the proposal. AIA, NAMIC and many other local and national business, citizen, law enforcement, and labor organizations all have joined the “No on E” coalition formed to combat the initiative. To learn more about “No on E,” visit http://www.no-on-e.com/

NAMIC has produced an issue brief on the J.A.I.L. initiative that includes more specific information about Amendment E. It can be viewed at: http://www.namic.org/insbriefs/060316JAIL.pdf

The attorney general’s official explanation will appear on the November ballot to help voters understand the proposed amendment. His explanation is as follows: “Citizens serving on juries, school boards, city councils, county commissions, or in similar capacities, and prosecutors and judges, are all required to make judicial decisions. Their decisions may be reversed on appeal, or they may be removed from office for misconduct or by election.”

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