Gavel Grab

Archive for the 'JAS Partner News' Category

Report by Business-Led Group Criticizes Judicial Elections, Urges Merit

20151118_Choosing_JusticeAn important new report from The Committee for Economic Development of The Conference Board delivers stinging criticism of judicial elections and says fundamental reform is urgently needed. “[A]ppointment  should be the basic principle applied to the selection of all judges,” the report says in favoring merit-based judicial selection.

“State judges make decisions in over 100 million cases annually, but their ability to handle these matters impartially is put at risk when floods of election money pour into the judiciary,” said Bob Kueppers, former Deputy CEO of Deloitte and Co-Chair of CED’s Money in Politics Subcommittee, which led the study, in a statement. “Appointing them based on merit will insulate them from the political pressures caused by campaigns and, ultimately, help to ensure that justice is fairly applied.”

The CED report says, “Elections encourage candidates to raise campaign contributions and appeal to voters, which exposes judges to partisan political pressures and interest group politicking aimed at influencing their behavior.” It zeroes in on concerns of the business community: Read more

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Editorial Casts its Vote for Merit Selection in Pennsylvania

An Erie Times-News editorial, discussing a proposal to raise the mandatory retirement ages of Pennsylvania judges (see Gavel Grab), casts its vote for another switch: for the merit-based selection of top state jurists.

“The truly wise step to take,” the editorial says, “would be for lawmakers to approve legislation supported by Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts to create a merit system for appointing judges to the Commonwealth, Superior and Supreme courts.” The editorial also notes the support of PMC, a Justice at Stake partner organization, for the proposed constitutional amendment to raise judges’ retirement age.

“Those who want to raise the retirement age in Pennsylvania should step up for merit selection as well to enlist support from voters on the referendum,” the editorial concludes. Read more

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Proposal Would Raise Retirement Age for Pennsylvania Judges

A proposed constitutional amendment to raise the mandatory retirement age for Pennsylvania judges from 70 to 75 will come before voters in April 2016.

The state Senate on Monday completed the legislature’s role in approving the referendum measure with a 36-13 vote. For two consecutive years the legislature has approved the measure, according to The Associated Press. Read more

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Op-Ed Rips Michigan’s ‘Dark Money Streak’

rich robinson“Well, Michigan, we did it again,” laments Rich Robinson (left), Executive Director of JAS partner organization the Michigan Campaign Finance Network, in an op-ed for the Detroit Free Press.  Citing data from Bankrolling the Bench: The New Politics of Judicial Elections 2013-14, co-authored by Justice at Stake, he notes that Michigan once again held the costliest state Supreme Court race in the nation in 2014.  And, he adds, many of the spenders’ actual identities will never be disclosed, as the phenomenon of “dark money” continues to plague these races.

“Dark money judicial campaigns have been endemic in Michigan since the 2000 Supreme Court campaign,” Robinson writes. “Since then, $71 million has been spent in filling 18 seats. More than $39 million (55%) was outside the campaign disclosure system.”

Calling for a change in the system, Robinson notes that some efforts at reform have run aground in the state legislature and governor’s office.

In his conclusion, he doesn’t mince words. “Our Supreme Court campaigns are a national disgrace,” he states bluntly.  “If we’re to have shared trust and confidence in the impartiality of our courts, we must demand fully transparent judicial election campaigns.”

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Essay: When Judges Aren’t Confirmed, Enhanced Diversity Suffers

Capitol_domePolitical foot-dragging to obstruct President Obama’s judicial nominees in the Senate is hurting enhanced diversity of our nation’s federal courts, the president of the Hispanic National Bar Association writes in Huffington Post.

In his commentary, Robert Maldonado cites the example of Colombian-born Judge L. Felipe Restrepo of Philadelphia, who first was nominated for the U.S. Third Circuit Court of Appeals in November 2014.

A pair of other nominees endorsed by HNBA are stuck in the gridlock of Senate politics, Maldonado writes, saying the unusually slow pace of judicial confirmations this year has a widespread impact: Read more

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PA News Media: Merit Commended; JAS, Partners Cited

justice-scalesHow timely that a proposal to end elections of top judges in Pennsylvania is advancing in the legislature at the same time a “parade of personal, dirty ads” has begun airing in this year’s high court election, a Scranton Times-Tribune editorial said.

Endorsing a merit-based selection system as the best replacement for judicial elections, the editorial concluded, “An ineffective system, a series of scandals involving Supreme Court justices and the dirty ad campaigns should be catalysts for reform.” A state House panel voted its approval earlier this week of a merit system plan, and its action was commended as bipartisan and needed in a column.

Meanwhile the intensity of charges and countercharges amid outside spending in the court election was reflected by news articles reporting that one targeted candidate, Commonwealth Court Judge Anne Covey, dispatched a “cease-and-desist” letter to  Pennsylvanians for Judicial Reform over a negative ad the letter called false and defamatory. Read more

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Concerns Raised by JAS, Partners After PA Ad War Erupts

With two independent groups embroiled in an ad war over candidates for the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, Justice at Stake and its partner organizations raised concerns.

“We knew all along we’d likely see outside involvement on both sides in this race before it was all over,” said Liz Seaton, JAS interim executive director, in a statement.  “As non-candidate groups get involved and up the ante in judicial elections, the need for real reform becomes more urgent.”

“These outside groups are driving the negativity in this race, as candidate ads remain wholly positive. They demonstrate a disturbing trend of outside groups using a justice’s record in criminal matters to discredit them, which can have real consequences for the cases coming before the courts,” said Matt Menendez, counsel in the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center for Justice.
Read more

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National Group Joins PA Court Race With Critical Advertising

PennsylvaniaThe Republican State Leadership Committee, a national group that has gotten involved in some recent judicial elections, has jumped into the Pennsylvania Supreme Court election with ads “attacking” a Democratic candidate, Newsworks reported.

The ad assailing Judge Kevin Dougherty “focuses on his role in a notorious criminal case” in which custody for a young girl was given to her aunt, a convicted murderer, and later was abused, Newsworks said. The Dougherty camp said the judge never was accused of wrongdoing and he didn’t know about the aunt’s history.

Decrying the ad was Lynn Marks, executive director of Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts, as she condemned earlier TV ads that attacked Republican candidates. “We’ve seen this now from both sides,” Marks said. “We feel equally as strongly, whether it’s the Republican State Leadership Committee or another group. These negative ads serve no purpose other than discouraging voters from carefully evaluating judicial candidates.” Read more

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Justice at Stake, Partners Cited in Pennsylvania Court Race Coverage

gavel_cash-300x202As TV advertising heats up in the Pennsylvania Supreme Court elections, more media outlets are raising questions about both negative advertising and overall spending, while citing Justice at Stake and its partner groups.

A Pittsburgh Post-Gazette editorial condemned recent ads by “mudslingers” with Pennsylvanians for Judicial Reform (see Gavel Grab) and quoted Justice at Stake as saying, “Since 2000, elected Supreme Courts have been Ground Zero of an unprecedented money war, in which competing groups have spent tens of millions on negative ads, in an attempt to pack courts with judges friendly to their agendas.” The editorial also cited concerns raised by the Brennan Center for Justice.

Meanwhile Public News Service had an article headlined, “Supreme Court Election Campaign Spending Raises Concerns.” Lynn Marks of Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts told the news service that as soaring on judicial elections surges, voters may start to ask whether judges are impartial. Laurie Kinney of Justice at Stake said that in the court races that are the most contentious and and costly, special interests are involved in the spending. Read more

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Outside Spending Launched in Pennsylvania Court Race

PennsylvaniaSupremeCourtThe Nov. 3 election for three seats on the Pennsylvania Supreme Court is less than two weeks away, and TV ad spending in the race has approached $863,000, Justice at Stake and the Brennan Center for Justice said on Friday. They said a group funded mainly by plaintiff trial lawyers, Pennsylvanians for Judicial Reform, has started running TV ads opposing the Republican candidates for the high court and purchased contracts for $56,320 at three stations.

“As expected, the TV ad war in Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court election is heating up as we get closer to Election Day,” said Interim JAS Executive Director Liz Seaton. “This election has all the ingredients to be a highly contentious and expensive race, with a record number of seats open and the court’s ideological balance in play. A final onslaught of ads from all sides is highly likely in upcoming weeks.”

“We are seeing a rapid uptick in TV spending in just a short few weeks,” said Matthew Menendez, counsel in the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center. “With millions of dollars raised in this contest, voters can expect an ad blitz between now and Election Day. And we are watching for a possible flood of outside money shortly before the election.” Read more

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