Gavel Grab

Archive for the 'Judicial Elections' Category

Florida Revises Rules for Judges Seeking Retention

The Florida Supreme Court has adopted amendments to the Code of Judicial Conduct that will allow appeals court judges to pool campaign resources if they face “active opposition in a merit retention election for the same judicial office.”

The state Supreme Court decided to consider an update to the rules in 2013, the year after three justices were targeted for removal by conservative groups and survived the challenge to their retention elections, according to a Daily Business Review article. Entitled “How Citizens United Inspired Judicial Campaign Rule Update,” it is available by searching through Google. Read more

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N.C. Justice to Seek Reelection by Retention in 2016

Justice Bob Edmunds of the North Carolina Supreme Court will take advantage of a new law and run next year for a new term in a retention, as opposed to a contested, election, the Associated Press reported.

Gov. Pat McCrory, a Republican, recently signed into law the measure pushed by a Republican legislature. It has attracted media attention nationwide as an example of a transparently partisan measure to stack a court with sympathetic judges.

This month, a Mother Jones article portrayed the change to state judicial selection law as tantamount to canceling the 2016 election (see Gavel Grab). Said  Melissa Price Kromm of the North Carolina Voters for Clean Elections Coalition. “It is a partisan, political power grab.” Justice Edmunds is a Republican. Read more

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Report Spotlights High Spending, ‘Dark Money’ in MI Court Elections

gavel_cash_20121102165220_320_240Total spending in the race for three seats on the Michigan Supreme Court in 2014 reached $10.4 million, including $4.66 million in “dark money” sponsored TV ads supporting the Republican nominees, the Michigan Campaign Finance Network said in a report on Wednesday.

The report documented heavy dark money expenditures in state Supreme Court campaigns since 2000, and it said “The undisclosed spending is a direct threat to impartial justice.” When big political donors are anonymous, it said, “We can’t know when ethical, even legal, lines have been crossed. Transparency is inoculation against corruption. Dark money conceals corruption.” The report also examined campaigns for other offices, including state attorney general. 

MCFN relied on semi-annual reports by Justice at Stake and partner groups in stating that Michigan saw the most expensive Supreme Court elections in 2010 and 2012, and it predicted that Michigan would hold the same rank when a report is completed on 2014. In tracing dark money in elections for seats on the Michigan high court, it said: Read more

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Opinion: N.C. Retention Law for Conservative Benefit

North Carolina’s conservative legislature has stated that the purpose behind the recent Retention Elections Bill is to “keep money and partisanship out of Supreme Court elections,” reported Melissa Price Kromm in her op-ed published by The News & Observer. However, Kromm argues that the legislature’s recent agenda proves otherwise.

“With only one member of the court up for re-election next year — conservative Justice Robert Edmunds — the new bill will essentially ensure that a majority of the North Carolina Supreme Court remains conservative until at least 2018,” Kromm wrote. The law permits elected Supreme Court justices to opt to run for a new term in a retention (up-or-down) election (see Gavel Grab).

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Kloppenburg to Seek Wisconsin Supreme Court Seat Again

Judge JoAnn Kloppenburg of Wisconsin’s Court of Appeals, who was narrowly defeated in 2011 for a high court seat by incumbent Justice David Prosser, announced on Friday she will run for the high court again.

Newscast Image from 2011

Newscast Image from 2011

She will seek in 2016 the seat currently held by Justice N. Patrick Crooks, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported. It is not certain whether Justice Crooks, who is 77, will run for another 10-year term. He told colleagues last year he would not run, but he said in an interview this year he was considering seeking re-election and would decide by this fall.

The 2011 election was viewed widely as a referendum over new curbs on public employee unions spearheaded by Gov. Scott Walker, and it became a “bloody proxy fight for special interests from around the country,” Time magazine reported at the time. The New Politics of Judicial Elections 2011-12, compiled by Justice at Stake and partner organizations, said the contest exemplified a “race to the bottom.” The race was concluded by a recount. Read more

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‘Williams-Yulee’ is Analyzed by Law Dean Chemerinsky

The Supreme Court’s recent decision in Williams-Yulee v. The Florida Bar “leaves open the question of what else states may do in regulating speech in judicial election campaigns,” Erwin Chemerinsky, dean of the University of California/Irvine School of Law, writes at ABA Journal.

The 5-4 majority in Williams-Yulee  upheld a Florida ban on judicial candidates directly soliciting campaign money. The court’s “emphatic declaration that judges are not politicians” is in tension with a decision 13 years ago in Republican Party of Minnesota v. White, Chemerinsky contends, and leaves new questions for the high court to answer in the future. To learn more about Williams-Yulee, see Gavel Grab.

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Column: W.Va. Justice Benjamin to Face a Re-Election Challenge

scAttorney Beth Walker is preparing to announce that she will seek a seat on the West Virginia Supreme Court held by Justice Brent Benjamin, who’s seeking re-election, a column in the WV MetroNews reports.

Walker unsuccessfully sought election in 2008 as a Republican, and Justice Benjamin is a Republican, but judicial elections in West Virginia will be non-partisan starting next year. Walker’s announcement would represent a “substantial challenge” to the incumbent, Hoppy Kercheval writes in the column, but the trial attorneys belonging to the West Virginia Association for Justice have not been heard from yet.

Justice Benjamin had a role in events that preceded a landmark U.S. Supreme Court ruling in 2009, Caperton v. Massey, about runaway judicial election spending. The U.S. Supreme Court said Justice Benjamin could not hear a case involving a coal company whose chief executive had spent $3 million toward the judge’s election.

Citing the 14th Amendment Due Process Clause, which grants every litigant the right to an impartial trial, the high court said a “serious risk of actual bias” was created when Justice Benjamin cast the tie-breaking vote to overturn the jury’s decision in the case.

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JAS: ‘Gloves May be Off’ in Pennsylvania Supreme Court Elections

Nominees for three open Pennsylvania Supreme Court seats

Nominees for three open Pennsylvania Supreme Court seats

“I think the gloves may be off,” Justice at Stake Deputy Executive Director Liz Seaton told the Philadelphia Inquirer for its article about high outside spending expected to flow into Pennsylvania’s upcoming elections for three open seats on the state Supreme Court.

The article relies on data collected by Justice at Stake and partner organizations to illustrate a huge increase in independent spending in state high court races, and it also quotes former state Supreme Court Chief Justice Ronald Castille about the impact on a judge’s thinking of mega-campaign donations. “These people gave me a million dollars,” he said. “I mean, wow, how do you get that out of your mind?”

As Pennsylvania gears up for the high court elections this fall, the article offers almost a primer about issues involved with big-spending judicial elections and outside money; it talks about nasty TV ads that have run in some states, their impact on qualified judicial candidates seeking office, and their impact on judicial outcomes. Read more

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LA Judge Asked to Recuse Based on Campaign Expenditures

gavel_cash-300x202Attorneys for ExxonMobil Corp., BP America Co., Chevron Corp., and several independent energy companies have asked Louisiana Supreme Court Justice Jeff Hughes to step aside from participating in review of two environmental cases, due to campaign spending by trial lawyers.

The Louisiana Record reported that the energy companies said plaintiffs’ lawyers made a series of campaign donations to a PAC that supported Hughes’s election in 2012 while the two cases were pending, and as a result, the oil companies’ right to due process was compromised. The plaintiffs’ lawyers spent almost $400,000 to help Hughes win election, according to the recusal motions.

The PAC’s spending captured attention at the time of the 2012 election (see Gavel Grab). Louisiana Record, a legal publication, is owned by the U.S. Chamber Institute for Legal Reform.

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AR Justice to Retire, and a Campaign to Succeed Him is Launched

stock-footage-arkansas-flag-loopJustice Paul Danielson of the Arkansas Supreme Court, who is 69, announced he will retire when his term ends in January 2017. He mentioned state law that prohibits a judge from serving past the age of 70 without giving up retirement benefits.

Justice Danielson has generated controversy recently. According to the Associated Press, he “accused other justices of unnecessarily delaying a decision on whether to legalize gay marriage.”

Not long after Justice Danielson made his announcement, Circuit Judge Shawn Womack opened his campaign for the high court seat. A former Republican state legislator, he pushed in that role for legislation to bar same-sex couples from adopting children, according to Arkansas Online. In more recent years he has said he respects the separation of powers among the branches of government, including the judiciary.

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