In the latest fallout of a U.S. Justice Department report critical of the police and court systems in Ferguson, Mo. (see Gavel Grab), the state Supreme Court named a Missouri appeals court judge to oversee all municipal court cases in Ferguson.
The assignment was made public as Ronald J. Brockmeyer, the municipal judge who was criticized in the Justice Department report for abuses, resigned his post.
According to the New York Times, the Justice Department report said, “The Municipal Court does not act as a neutral arbiter of the law or a check on unlawful police conduct. Instead, the court primarily uses its judicial authority as the means to compel the payment of fines and fees that advance the city’s financial interests.” Read more
“Ferguson, a city of 21,000, is unusual in some respects — it has issued the most warrants of any city in the state relative to its size, for example — but the unfairness in its court system that the Justice Department highlighted is not limited to it, to St. Louis County or even to Missouri.”
Offenses include using “police and courts as money making ventures,” racial bias in policing, and exchanges of racist emails, according to the New York Times. The report found that 85 percent of traffic stops and 93 percent of arrests over a two year period targeted the city’s black population. “A black motorist in Ferguson was twice as likely to be searched.. even though searches of whites turned up drugs and other contraband more often,” the article explains.
Citing Missouri billionaire Rex Sinquefield’s $300,000 donation to a Washington, D.C. group that tried to defeat a local Missouri judge, a St. Louis Post-Dispatch editorial asks Sinquefield for more transparency and less deceit.
In an editorial styled as a letter to Sinquefield, the editorial board asks, “Could you please instruct your vast army of political operatives to stop being deceitful about how they spend your money?” It acknowledges that on some issues it agrees philosophically with the activist donor, but “When you — or the people who work for you — secretly funnel money into Washington, D.C., political action committees to hide the source of the funds, it looks really sneaky and underhanded.”
The letter refers to money Sinquefield gave to the Republican State Leadership Committee and its spending that amount and more to defeat Cole County Circuit Judge Pat Joyce, who ultimately won reelection in November (see Gavel Grab). It says “your spokespeople wouldn’t fess up. Neither would the RSLC.” Read more
When a national organization, the Republican State Leadership Committee (RSLC), pumped a six-figure sum in a lower-court election to defeat an incumbent judge, it captured national news media attention (see Gavel Grab). Now a local newspaper is following the money trail.
According to the Jefferson City (Mo.) News Tribune, “Missouri billionaire Rex Sinquefield gave $300,000 to the Republican State Leadership Committee in October, an RSLC filing with the federal Internal Revenue Service shows.” The RSLC gave more than $304,000 to its Missouri political action committee, which spent $10,000 in support of a local legislative candidate and “most of the rest” in support of Brian Stumpe, a Republican who unsuccessfully challenged Cole County Circuit Judge Pat Joyce, a Democrat.
The News Tribune reports, “Sinquefield’s $300,000 donation would appear to be a direct contribution to the RSLC, for its expenses in Missouri. But his donation was just under 55 percent of the total $548,349 the RSLC received from Missourians during the Oct. 1-Nov. 24 reporting period.” Read more
When voters in Cole County, Mo. reelected an incumbent circuit court judge this month, many of them recognized a “dark money campaign was neither fair nor factual” on behalf of the challenger, a Jefferson City News Tribune editorial said.
Jefferson City is Missouri’s capital, and it is located in Cole County. The editorial was commenting on the race between challenger Brian Stumpe, supported with six-figure spending by the Republican State Leadership Committee (RSLC), and incumbent Judge Pat Joyce. The RSLC is a national group based in Washington, D.C.
“We commend Cole County voters for rejecting a climate of fear and for vanquishing it with their votes. They have sent a message that walkers bringing dark money are not welcome here,” the editorial said. The editorial relied on Wikipedia for a Read more
In several states that have recently held judicial elections or that will hold them next year, there is talk of changing the way judges are selected:
- After controversy in Kansas over a state Supreme Court ruling that set aside death penalties for two brothers, state legislators may be ready to give the governor more control over appointments of high court justices, Kansas.com reported. Two justices who voted to vacate the death penalties faced an ouster drive but won retention on Election Day.
- Some people are talking about the possibility of Cole County, Missouri switching from judicial elections for lower court judges to a merit-selection system after a national political organization pumped a six-figure sum into this month’s election, the Jefferson City News Tribune reported.
- “Voters will have chance to remake Pa. high court” next year, the Associated Press reported. “Misconduct in PA’s highest court leads to calls for reform,” stated a headline for JudgesonMerit.org, sponsored by Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts, a JAS partner organization.
The contest drew national media attention when the Republican State Leadership Committee supported prosecutor Stumpe. It backed him with nearly $300,000 in funding, including direct donation to the campaign and also for advertising critical of Judge Joyce.
The lower-court election took on outsized importance as the court’s jurisdiction includes challenges to the constitutionality of state laws and the language of ballot measures. Judge Joyce is a Democrat. Stumpe is a Republican. Read more
As a $200,000 injection of outside money from a national group (see Gavel Grab) changes the focus of a Cole County, Missouri election for Circuit Court, a St. Louis Post editorial calls for changing the way judges are chosen there.
Cole County voters would do well to follow the model of Greene County voters, who decided in 2008 to halt electing local judges and instead adopt the merit-based selection system that is used to choose local judges in St. Louis and Kansas City, and all state appellate judges, the editorial says.
“The administration of justice is too important to have questions about whether one donor, or a group of donors, can buy their own judicial outcomes by using their cash to tilt an election,” the editorial asserts. Read moreNo comments
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. Read moreNo comments