Archive for the 'JAS Partner News' Category
An Allegheny County (Pennsylvania) County Court of Common Pleas judge-elect is asking area attorneys to donate money so she can reduce or eliminate her campaign debt. To a court reform group, this practice doesn’t pass the smell test.
“I’m not blaming the treasurer or the judge-elect, but it does raise at least the question of the appearance of impropriety,” Lynn Marks, executive director of Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts, said of the controversy surrounding Judge-Elect Jennifer Satler. ”The real problem is that there can be this perception of favoritism after she’s elected if one side or the other has made a large contribution to the judge.”
Marks told WTAE-TV that the problem “isn’t with the candidates themselves. The real problem is the system.” PMC, a Justice at Stake partner organization, is supporting legislation for Pennsylvania to switch from partisan, contested judicial elections to a merit selection system for choosing appellate judges.
Satler’s campaign manager said the fundraising letter was unsuccessful.
As Pennsylvania considers a proposal to dump its system for picking top judges in partisan elections and replace it with merit selection, “Pennsylvania is sort of in everybody’s sights,” says a former Colorado Supreme Court justice.
Former Justice Rebecca Love Kourlis is executive director of the Institute for the Advancement of the American Legal System, based in Denver. She told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review that behind efforts to reform judicial selection methods lies eroding public trust in fair and impartial courts.
“It’s a function of the fact that the judiciary is now seen as political. Not so long ago, I think that most people believed that judges were not political actors, that they were trying to make decisions on the basis of the law and the facts,” Justice Kourlis said. Change came “because of some of the hot-button issues over the last couple of decades.”
Lynn Marks, head of the reform group Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts, told the newspaper, “We think Pennsylvanians deserve judges that are chosen based on their credentials, not because of political connections, or where they live, or how much money they raise … or where their name appears on the ballot.” Read more
Vacancies on the nation’s federal trial courts have surged from 65 in July to 75 now, or 11 percent of the courts’ authorized seats, according to a new study by the Brennan Center for Justice. It is a JAS partner group.
“Our trial courts are in trouble,” said Alicia Bannon, counsel at the Brennan Center, according to a Legal Newsline article. “As seats remain unfilled, millions of Americans who rely on district courts are being denied the justice they deserve. District courts can no longer wait.
“The President and the Senate must find a way to fill these crucial seats.” The report is available by clicking here.
At a 25th anniversary celebration for Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts, retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor urged a shift away from partisan judicial elections in the state.
“Judicial independence means that judges are free to decide cases on the basis of law and facts, rather than on the basis of campaign contributions,” Justice O’Connor said, according to a Law360 article. “If it’s not present, our confidence in the judiciary crumbles.”
“Moving away from partisan election of judges is tremendously important,” Justice O’Connor added in the keynote address. She described the success of Arizona, where she once served as a legislator and judge, in adopting a merit-based judicial selection system. “I wish all of you every success in your efforts to protect the integrity of your courts,” she said.
PMC, a Justice at Stake partner organization, has been pushing for Pennsylvania to end judicial elections (see Gavel Grab about recently introduced, bipartisan legislation) and adopt a merit selection system. Justice O’Connor recently joined Justice at Stake as its first honorary chair. Read more
Pennsylvania’s use of partisan elections to pick judges has come under criticism from another newspaper editorial board, this time the Elizabethtown Advocate. Its editorial cites “mudslinging” in a recent Superior Court election as evidence of need for a change.
The editorial cast a spotlight on a negative ad aired by the Republican campaign of Vic Stabile in the contest with Democratic candidate Judge Jack McVay Jr. The ad, which brought up allegations of nepotism in hiring, was criticized by the Pennsylvania Bar Association.
The editorial elaborated:
“This is only the latest example of why we should not have people running for judicial seats the same way they run for governor or mayor. It would make far more sense to emulate what other states Read more
“Merit selection is a way to replace the current system of partisan election with one that provides for thoughtful, dispassionate analysis of a candidate’s credentials,” a Lancaster New Era editorial said. “[T]he benefits of merit selection are there for all Pennsylvanians to see, if they only take the time to look.”
For years, Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts has advocated a shift from contested judicial elections in the state to a merit selection system, using a bipartisan screening panel, gubernatorial appointment and subsequent retention (up-or-down) elections. The editorial mentions the work of the group, which is a Justice at Stake partner organization.
To learn more about the new legislation, see this recent Gavel Grab post.
A news outlet in still another state included in the “New Politics of Judicial Elections 2011-12” report has featured its findings and quoted two of its principal authors, Justice at Stake and the Brennan Center for Justice.
The CentralOhio.com news article, relying on the New Politics report, said that spending on state Supreme Court elections in Ohio totaled more than $3.8 million during the past election cycle and TV advertising amounted to $1.7 million.
Nationwide, an estimated $56.4 million was spent on judicial elections, according to the report, and more than $33.7 million of that went toward TV advertising.
“Judges are starting to look indistinguishable from other politicians. We don’t want our judges to be politicians in robes,” said Alicia Bannon of the Brennan Center, lead author of the report.
Bert Brandenburg, JAS executive director, cautioned that questions of impartiality are raised when spending on judicial campaigns comes from donors who may become parties to lawsuits before a judge. Read more
A proposed constitutional amendment to raise the mandatory retirement age to 80 for judges on the New York Court of Appeals and Supreme Court was rejected by voters on Election Day.
Sixty-one percent of voters opposed the measure, and 39 percent favored it, with results from 83 percent of precincts available, the New York Times reported. The newspaper discussed numerous political implications and motivations at play in the vote.
It was a “stinging rebuke” for New York Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman, who had advocated for the measure, according to the article, while Gov. Andrew Cuomo had lobbied against it. If adopted, the measure would have reduced Cuomo’s ability to shape the face of the highest court, because it would have lengthened the terms of several judges seated on it.
It was the fourth defeat in a row for proposals to raise state judges’ retirement ages across the country, according to Gavel to Gavel, a publication of the National Center for State Courts. It is a JAS partner organization.
Two Pennsylvania Supreme Court justices were retained by voters on Election Day. Although unopposed, they raised a combined total of hundreds of thousands of dollars amidst uncertainty over a possible anti-incumbent vote following the recent U.S. government shutdown.
Chief Justice Ronald Castille received about a 69 percent favorable vote for another 10-year term, although he will be required to step down — due to mandatory age limits — in one year. Justice Max Baer captured a favorable retention vote of about 71 percent, according to the Morning Call. Earlier, it was reported by the Associated Press that Justice Baer’s campaign had raised more than $420,000 and Justice Castille’s, at least $179,000.
Superior Court Judges Jack Panella and Susan Peikes Gantman won retention votes of about 69 percent each. In the sole competitive statewide court race, which saw a negative TV ad broadcast in the final week, Harrisburg attorney Victor Stabile defeated Allegheny County Judge John McVay Jr. Read more
Judge Carparelli “is a superb choice to lead AJS into its second century,” said AJS President Martha Hill Jamison of the 14th Court of Appeals of Texas. AJS is a Justice at Stake partner organization.
AJS announced this summer a new affiliation with Vanderbilt Law School (see Gavel Grab), and then-AJS Executive Editor Seth Andersen decided to step down. Judge Carparelli will assume his new position at AJS on Jan. 1, 2014 following his retirement from the bench.
“For more than a century, the American Judicature Society has been a national leader in ensuring that our nation has a fair, impartial and quality system of justice,” Judge Carparelli said. “I am honored to help lead AJS as it begins its second century and builds its relationship with Vanderbilt University.”