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Archive for the 'Judicial Elections' Category

Editorial: Weeks Later, Wisconsin Court Recusal Issue Remains

Wisconsin_flag_mapA lengthy Milwaukee-Wisconsin Journal Sentinel editorial, in the wake of a state Supreme Court decision ending a campaign finance investigation (see Gavel Grab), called the court “polarized and dysfunctional” and said a conflict-of-interest issue involving some of its members has not gone away.

Among the important questions remaining, the editorial said, is the following: “Should two of the justices whose campaigns received heavy support from the groups under investigation and involved as litigants before the court have heard the cases?” It said a special prosecutor asked for recusal by Justices Michael Gableman and David Prosser, and they did not step aside from hearing the case.

The editorial urged Gov. Scott Walker to “to show good faith, be true to his past words in support of transparency regarding campaign contributions, and initiate bipartisan action to resolve these questions.” Read more

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Opinion: Politicized Courts

In a column for the Greensboro News and Record’s news website, Doug Clark laments the politicization of courts at the federal and state levels. “The courts have been in the political cross hairs for a long time,” he writes, adding that current political attacks and manipulation aimed at courts are doing little to improve their standing in public opinion.

Noting Sen. Ted Cruz’s accusation of “liberal judicial activism” following the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling on marriage equality, Clark writes that “Opinions about the courts often bounce around, depending on the latest big decision. ” He maintains that Cruz’s idea is unlikely to gain traction, since  the founders intended courts to be apolitical.

Yet despite this intention of the founders, Clark says, North Carolina’s legislature successfully adopted a change in its court structure that was tagged as political at the outset. The state adopted an option for Supreme Court retention elections, even though “Democrats in the legislature voted against this change, smelling a political rat.” Clark goes on to observe that the switch appears most likely to benefit an incumbent Republican justice, whose continued presence on the bench would  maintain Republicans’ 4-3 majority.  Yet he also expresses hope that retention elections may prove less politicized than the contested elections currently in place for justices’ initial selection to the bench.

“Justices should not be accountable only to those willing to spend money to elect or retain them,” Clark writes, although in the current political climate, cynicism about courts appears to be widespread.

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Top W.Va. Judge Cleared in Ethics Case; Controversy Continues

justiceDavisThe West Virginia Judicial Investigation Commission has thrown out an ethics complaint lodged against state Chief Justice Robin Davis after an ABC News investigative report raised questions about election-year fundraising and a private Lear Jet deal.

According to The State Journal, the commission’s 15-page report harshly criticized former gubernatorial candidate Bill Maloney, who brought the ethics complaint, and ABC News.

The commission said Maloney put out a press release on the letterhead of his office after he submitted the complaint, in what “appears to the commission to be a blatant attempt to garner free publicity for himself.” It said he “chose to violate the confidentiality rule for filing complaints when he issued the rapacious press release that was designed to convict Justice Davis in the court of public opinion before any decision on the merits was reached by (JIC).” Read more

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U.S. Appeals Judge Kozinski: ‘Abandon Judicial Elections’

Judge Kozinski

Judge Kozinski

It is time to “Abandon Judicial Elections,” urges a respected federal appellate judge, Alex Kozinski of the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Judge Kozinski offers his outspoken view in a lengthy article entitled “Criminal Law 2.0.” His opinions and recommendations about ways to improve the criminal justice system have been excerpted by law professor Eugene Volokh in a Washington Post blog.

The judge writes about cases he considers miscarriages of justice, including the prosecution in Mississippi of Glenn Ford, who was exonerated in 2014 after serving  almost 30 years on death row for a crime he did not commit. The lead prosecutor in the case ultimately wrote an apology about his own handling of it. Ford died recently. Kozinski writes: “While many, perhaps, most judges resist the pressure and remain impartial, the fact that they may have to face the voters with the combined might of the prosecution and police groups aligned against them no doubt causes some judges to rule for the prosecution in cases where they would otherwise have ruled for the defense.” Read more

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Ongoing Debate: Role of Election Spending on WI Court is Examined

As debate continues over a Wisconsin Supreme Court ruling that quashed a campaign finance investigation involving Gov. Scott Walker (see Gavel Grab), one commentator said it appeared that big-money spending on judicial candidates paid off for conservative groups.

The commentary by Emily Mills in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel was headlined, “Money talks in state Supreme Court’s John Doe decision.” She wrote, “It’s an advantage to have money — particularly if you have boatloads of it and want to get the right Supreme Court justices elected to shore up your mission.”

At, meanwhile, former Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Janine Geske was quoted as raising some questions about the majority ruling in the 4-2 decision. She characterized as “very strange” language by the majority that quoted some individuals as criticizing searches conducted at their homes, based on news media reports, without there having been any chance for the other side to contest those statements.

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Editorial: Difficult to Reconcile Fair Courts and Judicial Elections

gavel_cash-300x202“What exactly do these people want,” asks a Philadelphia Inquirer editorial, when donors including lawyers and litigants give money to candidates for the bench? The editorial says it’s a troubling question, especially as contributions soar for candidates in the Pennsylvania Supreme Court election this year (see Gavel Grab).

The editorial notes that even U.S. Chief Justice John Roberts recently authored a majority opinion that upheld a state law prohibiting judges from personally soliciting campaign donations. In the end, the editorial says, it’s just plain difficult to reconcile the idea of impartial courts with judicial election partisanship and fund-raising:

“Fairness is an indispensable feature of any judiciary that aspires to legitimacy, but no generally accepted definition of the word is compatible with an unrestricted exchange of cash among interested parties, their advocates, and supposedly impartial jurists. That’s why even Roberts, who considers campaign spending and speech equally sacrosanct under the Constitution, saw fit to uphold a law restricting what a judicial candidate may say to his prospective funders. Pennsylvania’s judicial conduct rules include a similar restriction prohibiting judges from personally requesting donations.

“Unfortunately, delegating that task to a judge’s campaign committee, which is all the rules require, does about as much to keep the system honest as the donors’ assertions that their investments are being made in the name of truth and justice. Both supreme courts, the state’s and the nation’s, have shown that attempting to reconcile partisan elections and fund-raising with fair jurisprudence is a fairly ridiculous endeavor.”

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Will Another Candidate Join Race for Pennsylvania Supreme Court?

PennsylvaniaSupremeCourtElections for an unprecedented three open seats on the Pennsylvania Supreme Court were expected to be contentious this year, but the possible entry of a seventh candidate into what is now a six-person race could make them even hotter, the Philadelphia Inquirer says.

Paul Panepinto, a Philadelphia Common Pleas Court judge, recently quit the Republican Party and registered as an Independent; he is collecting petition signatures in order to run in the Supreme Court general election, according to the newspaper.

Already, “A storm of special interest and partisan advertising is on the horizon from outside groups not connected to the candidates,” the newspaper reports. To learn about how much was spent before three Republican and three Democratic candidates won nomination in a primary earlier this year, see Gavel Grab

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Former TX Chief Justice, at ‘Summit,’ Urges Judicial Selection Reform

Former Chief Justice  Jefferson of Texas

Former Chief Justice Jefferson of Texas

Public confidence in our courts is eroded when judicial candidates raise campaign cash from litigants and lawyers, former Texas Chief Justice Wallace Jefferson told Justice at Stake’s 2015 Fair Courts State Summit in a keynote address on Thursday.

Jefferson, the Texas court’s first African-American judge and first African-American chief justice, is an ardent champion of merit selection. Recounting his firsthand experience in Texas, he told the Summit attendees why he believes reform is necessary and also why it is hard to achieve.

After describing a Texas system whereby many judges win office on a straight-ticket partisan vote, he said the top qualifications to win election are party affiliation, the “sound of your name” and “how much money you can raise. And what is so disheartening about that is it has nothing to do with qualification and merit.”

“Another very fundamental problem,” he continued, “is that the public … thinks that if you’re accepting money from a litigant or lawyer, you are  going to back that litigant or lawyer in your judicial ruling. And so the confidence in a fair and impartial system of justice goes away just by the very practice that you have in Texas and many many other states, even increasingly in states where judges are elected in retention elections.” Read more

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Candidates in Court Primary Spend More Than $1 Million

Are big-spending statewide judicial elections spilling over to lower-court contests in Pennsylvania?

The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reported that spending in a primary by nine candidates for Westmoreland County Common Pleas Court exceeded an overall $1.2 million.

Four candidates were nominated, and the three who capture the most votes in the general election will secure judgeships on the county bench.

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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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