Gavel Grab

Archive for the 'Judicial Elections' Category

Citing JAS, Stateline Spotlights Perils of Big-Spending Judicial Elections

With partisan and special interest groups “pouring” money into state judicial elections, the stakes for preserving fair and impartial courts are high, Justice at Stake and a partner group warn in a Stateline article.

JAS-LogoRegarding the corrosive effect of this special interest spending, JAS Executive Director Bert Brandenburg told Stateline, “The public has become firmly convinced that justice is for sale.”

“Courts are under threat,” said Alicia Bannon of the Brennan Center for Justice. “What they (special interests) are trying to do is shape who’s sitting on our courts and shape decisions.”

In addition to reporting on judicial election trends, Stateline discusses legislative efforts in states such as Kansas to change the way supreme court justices are selected by giving more authority to the governor and legislators. Read more

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Outside Spending Fears Debated in N.C. Court Race

With North Carolina Supreme Court elections barely seven weeks off, two candidates who have faced critical campaign ads voiced a concern that heavy outside spending damages public trust in impartial courts.

The concerns were aired by incumbent Justice Robin Hudson and Court of Appeals Judge Sam Ervin IV at an event sponsored by the Federalist Society, the Associated Press reported.

“It is unrealistic to expect that in the current environment there will not be outside dollars,” responded Superior Court Judge Eric Levinson,  who said “my prayer is that they will be positive, if they’re any that run in the fall.” He is challenging Justice Hudson. Read more

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Ex-Justice Warns: Don’t Put Montana Judges on ‘Auction Block’

Retired Justice Nelson

Retired Justice Nelson

“Montana’s judiciary must not be forced onto the auction block,” retired state Supreme Court Justice James Nelson writes in an outspoken Montana Standard op-ed. Signing the opinion with him were retired Justices Terry Trieweiler, Jim Regnier, Bill Leaphart, Bill Hunt and John (Skeff) Sheehy.

Tracing special interest and partisan spending in recent supreme court elections held in other states, and the pouring of “dark money” into judicial elections in the wake of Citizens United, Justice Nelson says the same trends could affect Montana judicial elections and have a frightening impact.

“No Montanan wants to litigate in a court where the fix is in because the judge or justice is beholden to those who spent him or her onto the bench,” he writes. “Montanans deserve fair, impartial, independent and non-partisan judges and justices elected by Montana voters—not political hacks, bought and paid for by out of state dark money. Our civil justice system is at stake.” Read more

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MT Rule Banning Partisan Judicial Endorsements is Defended

Six of Montana’s seven state Supreme Court justices are asking a federal judge to uphold a rule that they say helps keep politics out of the courthouse.


A local candidate for Justice of the Peace recently sued to challenge a state rule that candidates for judgeships may not accept or seek partisan endorsements. In an amicus brief that was the subject of a Helena Independent Record article, the six justices ask a federal court to deny the request:

“We urge this court to acknowledge that regardless of what a political organization is allowed to do, a candidate for judicial office may and should be held to a standard commensurate with the dignity, gravity and optimal function of judicial office.” Read more

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JAS Report on Judicial Election Spending is Featured

A report by Justice at Stake and the Brennan Center for Justice, two nonpartisan reform organizations, about judicial election spending so far in 2014 grabbed national exposure when it was carried by Legal Newsline. 

jas_logoAlready this year, more than $3.1 million has been spent on TV ads in state supreme court primaries and off-cycle elections, the groups said last week. Three states with off-cycle elections (Tennessee, Idaho, and Arkansas) saw greater spending than in their prior election cycles, while North Carolina saw record spending in its primary (more than $1.3 million).

In November, contested elections will be held for supreme courts in eight states and retention (up-or-down) elections will be held in 14 states. Legal Newsline is owned by the U.S. Chamber Institute for Legal Reform. The Brennan Center is a JAS partner organization.

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Record Candidate Spending Ahead in N.C. Court Elections This Fall?

Cash-gavel-sold1Candidates for the North Carolina Supreme Court and state Court of Appeals are poised to spend record sums in campaigning for election this fall, according to an analysis by Facing South, the online magazine of the Institute for Southern Studies.

Five court candidates and one district attorney candidate have reserved sets of joint TV ads that total almost $500,000, the magazine said. At the same time, with the state legislature having killed a public financing program for judicial elections, candidates may be taking significant cash from parties who end up appearing before the winner in court.

In the case of incumbent Chief Justice Mark Martin, the article said, of $121,000 in campaign contributions made during April-June 2014, 43 percent of the contributors are attorneys and judges. Read more

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Arkansas Supreme Court Removes Judge Maggio From Bench

1372349497-maggioThe Arkansas Supreme Court has ordered immediate removal of Faulkner County Circuit Judge Mike Maggio from the bench, rejecting a part of a settlement agreement by the judge that he be suspended with pay until the end of 2014.

“We deem any further suspension with pay to be inappropriate,” the high court said, according to the Associated Press. The judge was disciplined over his disclosing  confidential details about an adoption involving actress Charlize Theron and making off-color remarks in an online forum (see Gavel Grab). Read more

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Editorial Likes Judicial Vetting Panel, Not Nasty Elections

With some nasty local judicial elections having wrapped up recently, a Miami Herald editorial finds the vetting process for a potential federal court nominee to be far superior.

5063bd81e9e19.preview-620A nominating commission that advises Florida’s two U.S. senators recently interviewed 15 candidates for a vacant federal district court judgeship. A member of the editorial board sat in on the interviews, conducted by the “blue-ribbon panel made up of local legal eagles and community leaders,” and found it suited to focusing on candidates’ qualifications for the bench.

What a striking contrast, the editorial suggests, with the “bitter races with plenty of mudslinging that played out in Miami-Dade and Broward last month.” In a number of those races, political committees emerged to support judicial candidates. The editorial laments how the races unfolded: Read more

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Costly High Court Election Looming in Ohio?

gavel-and-cash.125192919_stdCandidate fund-raising in advance of Ohio’s Supreme Court election this fall already has surpassed a combined $1 million, according to local news reports.

The campaigns of incumbent Justices Sharon Kennedy and Judith French have reported balances of $709,030 and $679,739 respectively, according to a Toledo Blade article.

The incumbents are Republicans. The campaigns of their Democratic challengers, state Rep. Tom Letson and Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Judge John O’Donnell, reported balances of $12,722 and $136,011, respectively. Read more

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Commentary: Will High Court Rule on Judicial Ethics Canon?

Will the U.S. Supreme Court find in a challenge to a Florida judicial ethics rule a vehicle to “further open the pipeline of money” into state judicial elections? A legal analyst who’s no fan of the Roberts Court expresses that concern.

The Florida Bar has asked the Supreme Court to review a rule barring candidates for a judgeship from personally soliciting campaign contributions (see Gavel Grab). At RH Reality Check, an online publication devoted to sexual and reproductive health and justice issues, analyst Jessica Mason Pieklo voices concern. Read more

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