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Judicial conduct panel still functional without legislative members

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The Judicial Conduct Commission can still function if the half of its members not declared unconstitutional by a recent Utah Supreme Court ruling are present at meetings, executive director Steve Stewart told the commission members Tuesday.

The court ruled Friday that having legislators serve as members of the commission that disciplines judges violates the separation of powers. Appointments to the disciplinary body by the Senate president and speaker of the House of Representatives were also declared unconstitutional.Six members - enough for a voting quorum - are not in violation of the recent ruling. These include three bar commissioners appointed by the Utah State Bar; two members of the general public appointed by the governor; one voting judge appointed by the commission and one non-voting judge, who can act in the voting judge's behalf. The non-voting judge is also appointed by the commission.

But Stewart said practical problems, like getting members to meetings and conflicts of interests, may hinder the body's proceedings.

The commission probably won't hold a formal hearing until the Legislature revises the group's makeup, Stewart said. But it will still conduct dismissals, receive complaints and conduct preliminary reviews and investigations, as well as focus on getting the commission composed properly.

This year, the commission has received 95 allegations of judicial misconduct, and 66 cases remain open. Eight cases are awaiting action by the commission or the Utah Supreme Court, and 16 others are under preliminary review.

Unless a special session is called, the Legislature won't decide the issue until it convenes in January.

Stewart said the legislators on the commission have always acted responsibly in his experience and provided a helpful link between lawmakers and the commission.

Legislators on the commission may continue to come to meetings even if they can't vote, Stewart said.