A West Virginia commission created to look at possible judicial reforms heard praise for North Carolina’s judicial election reforms by a judge who sits on that state’s Court of Appeals.
The 2002 overhaul of North Carolina Supreme Court and appeals court elections led to nonpartisan elections, furnishing all voters with a voter guide and an offer of public financing for candidates in the 2004 election cycle.
“Most of us judges tried not to be politicians, but that was necessary to be elected,” under the old system, Judge Wanda Bryant told the Independent Commission of Judicial Reform, according to a report in The Herald-Dispatch. “The new way really helps dispel big money influences in judicial elections.”
Public financing also has encouraged candidates who are not wealthy to run in judicial elections, the Charleston Gazette quoted Judge Bryant as telling the commission. That newspaper quoted Damon Circosta, with the North Carolina Center for Voter Education, as saying public financing has become mainstream in North Carolina.
In West Virginia, a bill to set up a pilot system for public funding of campaigns for state Supreme Court candidates did not advance out of a legislative committee.
West Virginia judicial elections grabbed the limelight when the U.S. Supreme Court this year handed down a landmark decision in Caperton v. Massey. The high court said that West Virginia Chief Justice Brent D. Benjamin was constitutionally obligated to recuse himself from a case involving Massey, because the energy company’s chief executive officer had spent $3 million to help elect Benjamin–while appealing a case to overturn a $50 million jury award.
Oral arguments in that case are scheduled for Sept. 8 before West Virginia’s state Supreme Court, according to a Charleston Gazette story that examines legal maneuvering in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court decision.