JAS: Voters Concerned About Outside Cash in Lower-Court Race

Darvocet-Stack-of-Cash-GavelNearly three out of four voters in Cole County, Missouri are concerned about outside special interest money pouring into a local race for Circuit Court judge, Justice at Stake announced on Thursday.

And more than two out of three voters in Cole County are concerned that politically charged judicial elections will pressure judges to make decisions based on public opinion, rather than the facts and the law, JAS said in disclosing the results of a poll it commissioned of 579 voters.

According to recent news reports, the Republican State Leadership Committee has injected $200,000 into the race. Cole County Circuit Court is influential throughout the state, having jurisdiction over lawsuits challenging the constitutionality of state statutes or the wording of ballot measures. Cole County is the seat of the state capitol.

“Not surprisingly, Cole County voters grow very suspicious when out of state money is injected into judicial elections,” said Bert Brandenburg, executive director of Justice at Stake in a statement. (more…)

Six-Figure Sum to Oust Local Judge: Who's the Real Source?

Money in handWhen six-figure sums suddenly flow from Washington, D.C. into a once-obscure lower-court judicial race, journalists and others typically begin hunting for the source.

That’s exactly what a Talking Points Memo blog post undertakes regarding $200,000 pumped into a Cole County, Missouri Circuit Court contest by the Republican State Leadership Committee, a national partisan organization (see Gavel Grab) backing a Republican candidate seeking to defeat a Democratic incumbent. The TPM post also quotes Justice at Stake about the unusual race. (more…)

Controversy Over D.C. Group Targeting Local Missouri Judge

The Republican State Leadership Committee’s channeling $200,000 into Missouri in support of a judicial candidate in Cole County (see Gavel Grab) is stoking controversy.

RSLC_logo_NO_INITIALS“I pretty clearly think it’s an attempt to intimidate the judges in the county courthouse,” said Chuck Hatfield, an area lawyer and a Democrat, told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “The message that’s coming through is, if you’ve ruled the way you think you ought to rule and it is contrary to some interest groups, they’re going to take you out.”

Cole County Circuit Court has “outsized influence” because it is home for Jefferson City, the state capital, the article notes. The court has jurisdiction over lawsuits challenging the constitutional of state statutes or the wording of ballot measures. The RSLC’s funds have gone  to support Republican Brian Stumpe, a prosecutor who is challenging incumbent Judge Pat Joyce, a Democrat. (more…)

National Group Backs Local Court Candidate; JAS Voices Concern

MO_20203The Washington, D.C.-based Republican State Leadership Committee has now funneled $200,000 into Missouri to support a Republican candidate seeking a judgeship in Cole County. Justice at Stake Executive Director Bert Brandenburg warned about the implications of such spending:

“When political groups try to buy up courts like real estate, they’re pressuring judges to answer to politicians instead of the law and the Constitution. And when even local courts aren’t safe from big money pressure, every American should worry that their liberties could be for sale.”

The Republican State Leadership Committee’s Missouri PAC earlier gave $100,000 to the campaign of Brian Stumpe (see Gavel Grab), who is challenging Democratic incumbent Judge Pat Joyce for the Cole County Circuit Court. It is the court of jurisdiction for lawsuits against the State of Missouri over such issues as constitutionality and ballot measures. (more…)

In Local Court Race, a Lawyers' PAC Makes News

WA_23025Gavel Grab mentioned recently that the political action committee of an auto insurer spent more than $300,000 in support of two local judges seeking re-election in the Miami area. Now, across the country, a PAC’s stance and its potential to spend big in a Washington state judicial election are making news.

The Seattle Times carried the following headline: “DUI lawyers PAC shifts support in judicial race to co-founder’s wife/A PAC founded by DUI-defense lawyers is targeting King County district Judge Ketu Shah in the November election, backing attorney Sarah Hayne, the wife of a longtime leader in the group.”

The article says Citizens for Judicial Excellence, the PAC, praised Shah’s qualifications when he was appointed in 2013.  Now, it says, the PAC has shifted support to Shah’s challenger this fall, the spouse of one of its leaders. The PAC has about $250,00 on hand and is likely to spend part of it to defeat Judge Shah, the newspaper says.


PAC Spends More Than $300,000 in Two Local Judicial Races

Sales-Tax-money-gavelThe political action committee of an auto insurer spent more than $300,000 in support of the re-election of two local judges in the Miami area, and one of the judges was re-elected while the second was defeated, the Miami Herald reported.

Circuit Judge Rod Smith defeated challenger Christian Carrazana, a personal injury attorney. Judge Nuria Saenz was defeated by personal injury lawyer Victoria Ferrer. A rival, less-funded political action committee also was set up by personal injury lawyers to support the challengers.

It was reported earlier that spending by United Auto Insurance’s political committee appeared to be unprecedented for its scope in a local judicial election (see Gavel Grab). (more…)

Big Spending Spilling Over to Local Judicial Races in Florida?

In Florida, it appears that a practice of big-money spending on judicial races has spilled over from the 2012 state Supreme Court election to two local Miami-Dade races this summer.

There is a “bitter election battle” in the two races between the political action committees established by an auto insurance company and by private injury attorneys, with the former supporting two incumbent judges by spending almost $227,000 so far, the Miami Herald reported.

The former PAC is named Citizens for Judicial Fairness and the latter, Citizens for Judicial Excellence; it has raised $47,000. The newspaper said the former group’s spending “appears to be a first” for a local judicial election, and that the treasurer for one of the incumbent judges’ campaigns resigned in protest “over the perception that a special-interest group is spending exorbitantly before the Aug. 26 election.”