11/13/08 — Ethics 101 -- Listen up: It is not just wrong if you get caught

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Ethics 101 -- Listen up: It is not just wrong if you get caught

Does it ever frustrate you just how much time some politicians spend trying to get around the rules -- and then act like the public is wrong for questioning what they do?

If so, you don't want to follow the latest stink coming from the office of Superior Court Judge Jerry Braswell.

It seems his jail liaison Corin Craft -- the temporary employee whose program he touted during his campaign as such an asset to the county court system -- has been let go because of allegations she falsified her timesheet.

It seems this young woman was out campaigning for Judge Braswell when her timesheet says she was in her county office.

She says she was told by her supervisor, (Judge Braswell) to campaign -- so she did, both on her own and during her workday. She says, however, that she also worked the required number of hours to earn her county paycheck, but that the timesheet did not allow her to record checking out and in for the flexible hours required to complete the campaign duties.

She said Judge Braswell signed her timesheet knowing what she was doing. He, of course, denies telling Ms. Craft to do any campaigning -- adding that he regularly signs timesheets without being able to verify exact hours worked.

Hmmm. Really?

The problem with this incident is not only that a young woman was told to go campaign for a judge -- whether that statement was implied or expressed -- even though that behavior would be reprehensible and just plain wrong.

And it is not just that a sitting court judge just signed a timesheet without an attached explanation, knowing that the employee involved had been working on his campaign and that there could have been a conflict of interest.

What is shocking here is that this is yet another -- just under the radar question of integrity and forthrightness concerning Judge Braswell's office.

The most essential qualities in a judge, court liaison or anyone who deals with the administration of justice is that he or she acts with ethics and propriety in mind -- and that he or she abides by the letter and spirit of the law at all times.

The guideline is simple -- if it has even a whiff of an ethical concern, don't do it.

How hard is that?

The same advice could be applied to other state, local and national officeholders who also don't seem to see anything wrong with bending the rules as long as no one finds out -- and as long as they are not actually broken.

We should not tolerate any shenanigans when it comes to those who have been entrusted with leadership positions in this county, state or nation. It is simply not right.

There are many people who wonder why American voters seem to need to have their arms twisted when it comes time to pick their leaders. This is why.

You simply do not know whether the candidate who is speaking to you is really going to stand up for the principles he or she professes to believe in before the election.

And it is awfully disappointing to find out you wasted your vote on someone who seems only to be working for him or herself.

Judge Braswell is on his way out, so this is not really a concern for Wayne County's future.

But it is an issue for the Judicial Standards Commission to consider and an incident on which a finding should be released.

That way, present and future judges will know that this is the sort of "oversight" that will not be tolerated if you are lucky enough to be chosen to wear a judge's robe in this state -- and that North Carolina is a place where judges' decision-making and behavior are above reproach.

We should insist on nothing less.

Published in Editorials on November 13, 2008 11:16 AM