Gavel Grab

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Are Planned Cuts to KS Court Funding Request Part of Larger Battle?

KansasKansas Gov. Sam Brownback’s office says his budget proposal pared back by $53 million over two fiscal years the judicial branch’s budget request because the latter hadn’t been submitted in the correct form.

Democratic state Rep. John Carmichael has a different take, according to the Lawrence Journal-World. He thinks the cuts came as part of a protracted fight pitting the executive and legislative branches against the judicial branch.

“Everything in this Statehouse is related to something else,” Carmichael said. “There is a battle between the judiciary, which seeks to enforce the Constitution of the State of Kansas, and the Legislature, which refuses to adequately fund public education, and certainly that is the root of the conflict.” Read more

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Legal Attacks Launched on TX Judge’s Ordering Marriage License

A Travis County, Texas judge’s ordering  of a marriage license for a same-sex couple has come under legal attack on multiple fronts.

The license was issued last week to a couple that included one member with ovarian cancer. According to the Washington Post, District Judge David Wahlberg ordered the exception, not long after Travis County Probate Judge Guy Herman ruled unconstitutional a Texas ban on marriage for same-sex couples. Read more

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For a Facebook Post, Court Recommends Judge’s Suspension

The Florida Supreme Court has recommended suspension for 30 days of Seminole County Judge Debra Krause, on top of a separate election-season punishment, for a Facebook post suggesting the challenger who defeated her husband in a judicial contest had lied.

The recommended suspension came on top of an earlier penalty set by the Judicial Qualifications Commission of a $25,000 fine and a reprimand for violations tied to her 2012 campaign for office, according to the Orlando Sentinel.

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Ex-Justice Nelson Urges Switch to Merit Selection in Montana

Retired Justice Nelson

Retired Justice Nelson

With scathing criticism of Citizens United’s “destructive fallout” for elected state courts, retired Montana Supreme Court Justice James Nelson is calling for a switch to merit selection of his state’s judges, before a “real train wreck” occurs.

In the February edition of Montana Lawyer, Justice Nelson writes a lengthy and detailed plea for a switch to merit selection, beginning with his own admission that for years he strongly supported electing Montana judges and justices. The impact of Citizens United and a $1.63 million contest for one Montana high court seat last year have helped make him a “true believer” to the contrary,  he says. His top critiques of Citizens United follow:

“First, Citizens United discourages qualified attorneys from running for judicial office. … Why would a qualified and experienced attorney choose to run for a judicial office that pays a fraction of that in the private sector; that requires the candidate to raise and spend a small fortune; and that demands the candidate, for months on end, subject herself or himself (along with their families) to a barrage of lies, misinformation and abuse from out-of-state organizations that know nothing — and care less — about the targeted candidate, Montana, its people or its Constitution and laws?

“Second, Citizens United actually encourages unqualified and inexperienced candidates to run. These types know that if they play to the out-of-state dark money folks; that if they promote the party or special interest agenda as their raison d’etre for running; and that if they mislead, dissemble and conceal their true selves, platform and motivation, then they will be able to count on the support and mega-bucks of the likes of the Republican State Leadership Committee, the Koch Brothers and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.”

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OH Court Fracking Dissenter Once Warned That Justice is for Sale

Outside the Ohio Supreme Court

Outside the Ohio Supreme Court

An Ohio Supreme Court justice’s dissent in a drilling industry case, mentioning the powerful influence of political donations, continues to capture attention on opinion pages in the state. Two years ago, the same outspoken judge warned that justice is for sale.

As Gavel Grab mentioned earlier, when the state’s high court recently ruled that oil-and-gas companies do not have to follow municipal regulations, Justice William O’Neill said in his dissent, “What the drilling industry has bought and paid for in campaign contributions they shall receive.”

At the Athens News, a commentary by Terry Smith quoted Justice O’Neill, and it was headlined, “GOP legislators, justices sleeping with oily interests.” The commentary focused more on donations to legislators than to the campaigns of justices. The 4-3 court majority based its decision  on a law passed in 2004 that instituted uniform state regulations. Read more

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Commentary: Why Wisconsin Justices Should Agree to Recuse

630px-Seal_of_WisconsinFor certain justices sitting on the Wisconsin Supreme Court, recusal is an issue that won’t go away.

Gavel Grab has mentioned a special prosecutor’s recent request for one or more of the justices to recuse themselves from hearing challenges to a campaign finance investigation, and Justice at Stake’s remarks that this reflects the “bitter harvest of electing judges.” The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel has reported that four justices benefited from extensive spending by three groups involved in the current cases.

Now a lengthy article by Bruce Murphy at Urban Milwaukee, an online publication, delves further into spending that benefited the justices. He zeroes in on spending by Club for Growth and Wisconsin Manufacturers and says: Read more

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For Some, John Oliver Has Exposed a Threat to Our Democracy

john-oliver-judges-courtJohn Oliver’s biting analysis of judicial elections (see Gavel Grab) continues to attract near-saturation coverage, bringing home for some audiences an issue they’re unfamiliar with.

Laura Rosenfeld wrote at TechTimes, “There are many great things about John Oliver’s Last Week Tonight Show, but one of the best is the way he tackles topics in an in-depth and hilarious way that really illuminates aspects of society many Americans probably don’t know too much about.”

PoliticsPA used the segment skewering judicial elections in states including Pennsylvania to ask, “Reader Poll: Should PA Have Judicial Elections?” Philly.com drew attention to a local ex-judge: “Watch: John Oliver slams former Philly Traffic Court judge Willie Singletary.” Read more

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Will West Virginia Extend Public Financing to Trial Court Elections?

West_Virginia_quarter,_reverse_side,_2005A bill filed in West Virginia’s House would create the first-in-the-nation public financing program for judicial elections at the trial level, according to Gavel to Gavel, a publication of the National Center for State Courts.

Sen. Mike Romano of Harrison County said recently, according to West Virginia Public Broadcasting, “The time has come to look at public financing for our judges. It’s worked well in our Supreme Court and it does take some of the influence of big money out of the most important office in our state.” West Virginia has a public financing program for state Supreme Court elections. Read more

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Wednesday Gavel Grab Briefs

In these other dispatches about fair and impartial courts:

  • Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Ann Walsh Bradley and her challenger, Rock County Circuit Judge James Daley, have agreed to three joint appearances in the weeks leading up to the state Supreme Court election on April 7, the Associated Press reported.
  • Vote Yes on 2, a group that supported a proposed constitutional amendment on judicial selection (see Gavel Grab) faces an election finance complaint from one of its foes alleging that it did not fully disclose its donations, according to Courthouse News Service. 
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Plenty of Buzz Over John Oliver’s Thrashing of Elected Judges

john-oliver-judges-courtThe buzz keeps building over a scathing segment about elected judges broadcast on Last Week Tonight with John Oliver (see Gavel Grab).

While the show employed satire, it also delved into serious questions about the ways that judicial elections can distort fair and impartial courts and erode public confidence in them. A Vox piece, for example, treated seriously the issues raised and reported Oliver’s concluding remark:

“Faith in a strong, independent judiciary is essential in civilized society. If we’re going to keep electing judges, we may have to alter our idea of what justice is.”

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