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.
A Kansas City Star article about the contest was entitled, “Campaign money pours into race for rural Missouri judge.” It reported that the episode in Cole County has renewed a debate about the best way to choose judges, and the threat posed by big spending on judicial elections.
“The judicial branch is supposed to be impartial,” said lawyer Steve Gorny, a member of the executive committee of the Missouri Association of Trial Attorneys. “But now the very court that may have to determine the validity of our laws is subject to the influence of campaign money. That’s very concerning.”
The article quoted Brandenburg of JAS as saying, “When even local courts aren’t safe from big-money pressure, every American should worry that their liberties could be for sale.”