California legislators got a glimpse of nasty advertising from other states when the Assembly Judiciary Committee held a hearing entitled, “Judicial Elections in California: Threats to the Perception of Fairness.”
According to a Legal Pad blog post, a video showed out-of-state campaign ads that “smeared various court candidates by linking them to insurers, trial lawyers or heinous criminals supposedly released too soon from prison.” (A video of the entire hearing is available here.)
California Supreme Court Justice Ming Chin told the hearing he was “getting closer” to opposing judicial elections completely. “The more that I hear about what’s going on across the country, the more concerned I am,” testified Justice Chin, who chairs the Commission for Impartial Courts.
The hearing included discussion by scholars of the Caperton v. Massey and Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission decisions by the U.S. Supreme Court, according to the Cal Watchdog blog.
Reforms that were discussed include public funding of judicial elections; disclaimers in campaign commercials; and longer terms for trial court judges. The witnesses included University of California, Irvine School of Law Dean Erwin Chemerinsky and Stanford Law School Professor Pamela Karlan.
California’s judicial system “is shaped largely by gubernatorial appointments and unremarkable retention elections,” according to Legal Pad blog. But that is not always the case; California was the scene for a widely publicized retention election revolt in which three justices, including Chief Justice Rose Bird, were voted off the court in 1986 for decisions overturning the death penalty.