Gavel Grab

Archive for the 'Judicial Elections' Category

JAS: Outside Spending Dominates Wisconsin High Court Primary

Wisconsin_flag_mapOnly a week before Wisconsin’s Supreme Court primary, TV advertising continues to be dominated by the Wisconsin Alliance for Reform, which has booked contracts worth at least $399,060, Justice at Stake and the Brennan Center for Justice reported on Tuesday.

The Alliance’s advertising supports incumbent Justice Rebecca Bradley.  She faces Milwaukee County Circuit Judge Joe Donald and State Court of Appeals Judge JoAnne Kloppenburg in the primary.  Kloppenburg began airing TV ads in recent days and has booked contracts worth at least $96,276;  Donald also began airing TV ads this week and has booked contracts worth at least $31,790. The ads can be viewed on the Brennan Center’s “Buying Time” website.

Reported ad spending is likely to go significantly higher by primary day, and there have been local media reports that spending by the Wisconsin Alliance for Reform could go as high as $1 million.

“Year after year, deep-pocketed special interests push their way into state high court elections with heavy ad spending, and agendas as mysterious as their donor lists,” said Liz Seaton, JAS Interim Executive Director. “Wisconsinites are rightly concerned, and this could be a very good time for election reforms to take politics and campaign cash out of their courts.” Read more

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News Article: Donors to Would-Be Judicial Candidate a ‘Mystery’

An unusual judicial election episode is unfolding in Nevada. Las Vegas Municipal Judge Catherine Ramsey is awaiting a decision from the state Supreme Court as to whether a recall effort against her is lawful. Meanwhile North Las Vegas City Attorney Sandra Douglass Morgan apparently has launched an active campaign for the seat, while the public is generally in the dark about her donors, The Las Vegas Review Journal reports.

An official in the Nevada Secretary of State’s office told the newspaper that after checking out relevant laws, the office concluded Morgan is not obliged to disclose her fundraising at this time. With its article, the newspaper published an image of what it said was a flier promoting a recent Morgan fundraiser at a hotel and casino. Read more

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TV Ad Wars Heat Up in Wisconsin Supreme Court Race

The TV ad air wars are heating up in the three-way Wisconsin Supreme Court primary, scheduled for Feb. 16. Milwaukee County Judge Joe Donald is launching a TV ad, Court of Appeals Judge JoAnne Kloppenburg has advertising up, and advertising sponsored by the Wisconsin Alliance for Reform is supportive of Justice Rebecca Bradley.

Donald’s ad says politics should be kept out of the courts, according to a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel article. Kloppenburg’s ad says Bradley is “backed to the hilt” by conservative special interests, the Associated Press reports. The AP also mentions spending by Wisconsin Alliance for Reform of more than $234,000 on advertising in support of Bradley, based on data collected by Justice at Stake and the Brennan Center for Justice.

The Bradley campaign meanwhile criticized its foes, saying the incumbent had “run a positive campaign from day one” and now it was disappointed “that our opponents feel compelled to attack Justice Bradley at every opportunity.” Read more

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In Arkansas, Slugfest Over Bankrolling Court Race

The race for Arkansas Chief Justice is becoming a slugfest, with election bankrolling a pivotal issue.  Associated Press and Arkansas Online articles, quoting Justice at Stake about a group’s record-setting outside TV ad spending critical of Justice Courtney Goodson, now report that the Goodson campaign has slammed its opposition.

Goodson is opposed by Circuit Judge Dan Kemp. The Goodson campaign said about TV ad expenditures by the Judicial Crisis Network that were critical of Goodson, “If Dan Kemp lacks the integrity to stop them, it’s a sign to every secret interest group in the country that Arkansas’ courts are for sale.” The incumbent’s campaign added, “Outside groups are not welcome in this race, and Dan Kemp should stop using dark money to buy a seat on our Supreme Court.”

As JAS and the Brennan Center for Justice reported on Monday (see Gavel Grab), TV advertising sponsored by the Washington-based JCN targets Goodson as an “insider” who accepts money from trial lawyers. (The Brennan Center is a JAS partner organization.) Read more

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Outside TV Spending in AR Supreme Court Race Breaks Record

396px-Seal_of_the_Supreme_Court_of_Arkansas.svgJudicial Crisis Network, based in Washington, D.C., has purchased more TV ad contracts in the race for Arkansas Supreme Court Chief Justice, bringing its total ad buys to date to $336,245, Justice at Stake and the Brennan Center for Justice reported on Monday.

This  more than doubles the previous high for outside spending in an Arkansas Supreme Court race, which was $164,560. That is according to Bankrolling the Bench, an examination of  spending in all state Supreme Court races in 2013-14 by JAS, the Brennan Center, and the National Institute on Money in State Politics.

A JCN-sponsored ad that has begun airing  targets incumbent Justice Courtney Goodson as an “insider” who  accepted money from trial lawyers. Ads may be viewed on the Brennan Center’s “Buying Time” website. Meanwhile, TV ad contracts booked by the Goodson campaign have risen to $104,805, according to FCC records. Read more

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AP Cites Justice at Stake About TV Ad Buy in WI Court Race

In Wisconsin over the weekend, people following the state Supreme Court race learned about a candidate’s new TV ad buy from an Associated Press article quoting Justice at Stake. It reported, “Supreme Court hopeful Kloppenburg begins TV ads in Milwaukee.” 

In the Feb. 16 primary, Court of Appeals Judge JoAnne Kloppenburg, appointed Justice Rebecca Bradley, and Circuit Court Judge Joe Donald are competing to become the top two vote-getters and stand in an April general election. You can read Justice at Stake’s report on a Kloppenburg ad buy by clicking here.

On another Wisconsin Supreme Court front, The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported, “Prosecutors allowed to appeal Walker probe ruling to U.S. Supreme Court.” To learn background of this long-running controversy, which involves judicial election spending and requests for judges to recuse, see Gavel Grab. Other coverage included Wisconsin State Journal, “Supreme Court allows John Doe prosecutors’ to file sealed documents in federal court,” and Election Law Blog, “Indefensible: WI Supreme Court Won’t Allow Prosecutors to Get Outside PRO BONO Help in Case Against WI Supreme Court.”

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Contrasting Candidates Vie for Arkansas Supreme Court Seat

The race for an open seat on the Arkansas Supreme Court in March offers a sharp contrast between the two candidates, the Associated Press reports.

Circuit Judge Shawn Womack previously served 10 years in the state legislature, where he introduced legislation to bar gays and lesbians people from fostering or adopting children. It was not passed into law. Womack says he understands and respects the separation of powers of the government’s branches.

Little Rock lawyer Clark Mason promotes his lack of political experience as an advantage. “Not being a partisan politician, having never run for office, having clearly the most experience and certainly the broadest experience in the race and the fact that I am not beholden to any special interest whatsoever, I have no agenda,” he says. Read more

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JAS: New Ad Buys in Two States With Court Elections Soon

There are increasing signs of TV ad wars in two states holding elections for state supreme court seats early this year, Wisconsin and Arkansas, according to tracking data gathered by Justice at Stake and released on Friday.

In Wisconsin’s Feb. 16 Supreme Court primary, Court of Appeals Judge JoAnne Kloppenburg’s campaign has signed contracts for at least $24,930 in TV advertising, according to an analysis of public FCC records by Justice at Stake. The initial Kloppenburg ad buys lag far behind contracts booked by the Wisconsin Alliance for Reform for ads supporting incumbent Justice Rebecca Bradley, which have reached $343,225. No TV ads have yet been purchased by the third candidate, Milwaukee County Circuit Court Judge Joe Donald.

In Arkansas, where voters will go to the polls March 1, the Washington, D.C.-based Judicial Crisis Network has booked television ad contracts totaling $76,555, JAS said. According to paperwork filed simultaneously with the ad buy at KFSM in Fort Smith, the topic of the ads will be “Gifts and campaign contributions accepted by Arkansas Associate Supreme Court Justice Courtney Goodson.” Read more

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Digital Ad in WI Court Race Makes Use of Incumbent’s Video, Too

In the Wisconsin Supreme Court race, the campaign of candidate Judge Joe Donald is attempting to reap some discord with a YouTube ad about Justice Rebecca Bradley that makes use, in disparaging fashion,  of video the Bradley campaign earlier put on YouTube.

His ad accuses the Wisconsin Alliance for Reform of spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to “help buy” Bradley’s election, according to a Capital Times article. The conservative, nonprofit group took video footage that Bradley’s campaign put on YouTube to make a positive TV ad in her support. Read more

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Opinions Raise Hard Questions About Electing Judges

VOTERThere’s no let-up in continuing controversy over popular election of state judges, as recent opinion pieces from Nebraska and Arkansas indicate. They provide intriguing views from one state (Nebraska) that uses a merit-based system to choose judges and one (Arkansas) that uses elections.

An Omaha World-Herald editorial is titled, “Leave judges out of politics,” and it argues vigorously against proposed legislation (see Gavel Grab) to switch to judicial elections.  It says Alexander Hamilton eloquently asserted the importance of judges steering free of outside influences. Turning to current times, it continues, “Electing judges would move Nebraska away from that needed independence, tying them to political campaigns and campaign donors.”

In The Times-Record, meanwhile, independent journalist Steve Brawner says disturbing questions about judges’ impartiality are almost inevitable as spending on judicial elections in Arkansas surges and they become more politicized. Such questions have been highlighted by a recent newspaper series (see Gavel Grab), he says, adding that consideration of a merit selection process like one pioneered by Missouri might be a better idea. His column is headlined, “Still want to elect justices?”

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