Gavel Grab

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. Read more

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In Pennsylvania, Renewed Calls for Shift to Merit Selection

supreme_seal_colorAfter the Pennsylvania Supreme Court suspended Justice Seamus McCaffery amid allegations of sending pornographic emails (see Gavel Grab), the entire episode has sparked extensive media commentary including calls for reform.

“Isn’t it time we stopped electing appellate and Supreme Court judges?” said a Pottstown Mercury editorial with the headline, “Shameful actions of justices stain state Supreme Court.” It continued, “It would be better to follow the federal example and come up with a merit selection process that has reasonable checks and balances.” It said both gubernatorial candidates back merit selection.

Lynn Marks of Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts, a JAS partner organization advocating for merit selection, told a CBS affiliate, “We’ve received many calls in the past week asking for change.” She added, “Judges should be selected based on their personal integrity and legal qualifications. What you want is a fair and impartial judge, not somebody who got there because they campaigned their way in or because they were a good fundraiser.” Read more

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Wednesday Gavel Grab Briefs

In these other dispatches about fair and impartial courts:

  • The Arizona Performance Commission on Judicial Retention has rated two Superior Court judges as unfit for a new term in office, the Arizona Republic reported.
  • Sue Carlton wrote a Tampa Bay Times column that was headlined, “Weirdness in electing Florida judges is still as good as it gets.” It mentioned an upcoming U.S. Supreme Court case over Florida’s prohibition on judicial candidates soliciting campaign cash.
  • A New York Times article about the U.S. attorney general, who is stepping down, was headlined, “A Holder Legacy: Shifting Terror Cases to the Courts, and Winning.”
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Karmeier Supporter Fires Back at Foes of Judge’s Retention

Screen shot 2014-10-22 at 1.30.33 PMIllinois state Sen. Dave Leuchtefeld, a friend and supporter of Illinois Supreme Court Justice Lloyd Karmeier, said opposition to the justice’s retention has been headed up by plaintiffs’ attorneys who stand to benefit if the court rules their way in two class-action cases.

“For these attorneys, it’s just like putting money in the stock market. It’s an investment,” Leuchtefeld told the Belleville News-Democrat. Earlier this week, Gavel Grab mentioned TV advertising critical of Justice Karmeier aired by a group calling itself Campaign for 2016. According to the News-Democrat, “The anti-Karmeier commercial slams him for accepting campaign donations from businesses during his 2004 election campaign and ‘letting corporations buy justice.’” Read more

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More Attention for Study on Attack Ads and Judges’ Decisions

Ad Aired in North Carolina Supreme Court Primary

Ad Aired in North Carolina Supreme Court Primary

A new study showing a correlation between attack ads accusing judicial candidates of being “soft-on-crime” and individual judges’ decisions (see Gavel Grab) is getting national circulation.

The study by the American Constitution Society and Emory Law School researchers was summed up this way by the McClatchy Newspapers’ Washington Bureau:

“The more judicial ads that run, the more likely state supreme court justices are to vote against criminal appeals, the study … found. Any judges ruling on criminal cases might second-guess their decisions for fear of such ads being used during their own campaigns, analysts think.” Read more

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Editorial: No on Amendment 3

florida-supreme-court

Floridians should vote no on Amendment 3, according to an editorial by the Sun Sentinel. (For background on the proposed constitutional amendment regarding judicial appointments, see Gavel Grab.)

The editorial bases its opinion on the 2006 state Supreme Court advisory opinion and the powers of the court’s chief justice. The opinion stated that the appointment power is clearly with the incoming governor. The chief justice also has the power to fill vacancies with other judges for a short period of time.

The three justices who would be affected by the amendment were opposed in the last election cycle by the Republican Party, which controls the executive and legislative branches in Florida. The editorial concludes by calling Amendment 3 the “latest politically motivated attempt to manipulate the state’s courts…”

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Commentary: Yes on Amendment 2

homeslide2

Amendment 2 “will establish a system for selecting judges that ensures that our appellate court judge or a Supreme Court justice will be independent, highly qualified and unbiased,” says Verna Wyatt, executive director of Tennessee Voices for Victims, in a commentary in The Daily Herald. (See Gavel Grab for background on Amendment 2.)

The amendment will reflect the federal judicial appointment system with both the executive and legislative branches having a hand in the process, but also include a retention election. According to the commentary, this creates a balance of a fair and independent judiciary that still remains accountable to the people.

Judges should be “held accountable to the people of Tennessee, not the best politicians who can raise the most money from special-interest groups,” the commentary says, “We don’t want our judges to be pressured to make rulings based on campaign contributions or politics.”

 

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Article: Group Against Retention of Karmeier Spends $561,700

An outside group calling itself Campaign for 2016 has spent $561,700 for TV advertising in opposition to Justice Lloyd Karmeier of the Illinois Supreme Court, who is seeking retention to a new 10-year term, according to the Madison-St. Clair Record.

George Zelcs, who practices law in Chicago and is associated with attorney Stephen Tillery of St. Louis, gave $300,000 to Campaign for 2016 in mid-October, the newspaper said.

The newspaper said Tillery “was on the losing end” of a major case involving Philip Morris. It continued, “In 2005, Karmeier was one of four justices who voted to overturn a class action judgment of about $10 billion in Price v. Philip Morris. Tillery would stand to collect approximately $1.8 billion in fees from the case.” Read more

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Tuesday Gavel Grab Briefs

In these other dispatches about fair and impartial courts:

  • A Buzzfeed article about President Obama’s selection of the next attorney general quoted Justice at Stake Executive Director Bert Brandenburg as stressing the importance of executive branch leadership on “access to justice” issues.
  • The New York Times has a “Retro Report” video entitled “The Cost of Campaigns,” and you can learn about the debate over special interest and partisan spending on judicial elections by watching at about nine minutes into the video.
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Will Irish Surname Affect Election for Ohio Supreme Court?

What’s in a name? There’s a debate about that in an Ohio Supreme Court race. An Associated Press article puts it this way:

“Call it the hunt for Irish ‘ayes’: Republicans charge that Democrats are trying to paint the ballot green in an Ohio Supreme Court race by recruiting a candidate based solely on his Irish last name.”

The candidate is Cuyahoga County Judge John O’Donnell. He is challenging Justice Judy French. In a GOP ad she is called “Judge Judi” to snag some of the popularity of “Judge Judy” on TV. Read more

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