Gavel Grab

Archive for the 'Judicial Elections' Category

The New Yorker Looks at Alabama ‘Double Jeopardy’ and Cites JAS

alabamaIn the New Yorker, a lengthy article examines the case of Shonelle Jackson, convicted of committing capital murder at age 18 and condemned to death by an elected judge who overrode a jury’s vote for a life sentence. The article looks at judges’ tough-on-crime campaign statements and high spending in Alabama judicial elections and quotes spending data from a 10-year report co-authored by Justice at Stake.

The article by Paige Williams is headlined, “Double Jeopardy: In Alabama, a judge can override a jury that spares a murderer from the death penalty.” If Jackson’s death sentence is implemented, it states, “he will be the first person to be executed despite a jury’s unanimous vote for life.”

In January, JAS Executive Director Bert Brandenburg had an op-ed in USA Today urging judicial selection reform and citing U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor’s dissent in a different death sentence by override case from Alabama (see Gavel Grab). “Her fear,” he wrote of Justice Sotomayor, “is that the Constitution’s guarantee of due process and a fair trial could be threatened by campaign pressure on judges who must stand for election.” Read more

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JAS Partner Spotlights ‘Dark Money’ in MI Judicial Election

The Michigan Campaign Finance Network, a Justice at Stake partner organization, says unreported, unregulated “dark money” bankrolled the majority of costs for TV advertising in Michigan’s 2014 Supreme Court and attorney general campaigns.

iStock_000015670171Small1The Michigan Republican Party spent $4.2 million on ads about Supreme Court candidates “but reported no television advertising to the Michigan Bureau of Elections” due to a loophole in state law, MCFN said in a news release. It said the Center for Individual Freedom, a Virginia-based 501(c)(4) “social welfare” corporation, spent $468,000 for broadcast advertising supportive of the Republican nominees and the advertising was not reported to the Bureau of Elections.

“When such expenditures are not reported, the donors behind the spending are not reported either,” MCFN noted. Read more

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New Mexico Appellate Judge is First Elected With Public Financing

VoteHanisee-posterJudge Miles Hanisee, who won election to the New Mexico Court of Appeals on Nov. 4, has a distinction: He is the first appellate judge elected with public financing since the state launched the program for statewide judicial candidates in 2008.

And for people concerned about money influencing politics, Thomas J. Cole wrote in an Albuquerque Journal column, this “was a patch of high ground in an election flooded with campaign cash from private interests.”

Both Hanisee and his opponent, Kerry Kiernan, obtained public financing under the program. Hanisee already was serving on the Court of Appeals because he was appointed to it by Gov. Susana Martinez. He earlier ran for election to the same court, accepting public financing for his campaign, and was defeated.

“It keeps lawyers’ money out of judicial races,” Hanisee said about public financing. “To me, that is the main thing you are trying to accomplish.”

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In N.C. Supreme Court Race, Recount Has Begun

A recount has begun in an extremely close race for North Carolina Supreme Court seat held by Justice Cheri Beasley. It was requested by attorney Mike Robinson, who challenged Justice Beasley and trails her with 49.89 percent of the statewide vote, compared to 50.11 percent for the incumbent, according to Halifax News Service.

“Recount underway in N.C. Supreme Court race,” reported the Jacksonville Daily News. It said the Board of Elections urged local boards to get the recounts done as quickly as possible so results could be calculated on Nov. 20.

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JAS: Without Reforms, Impartial Justice ‘In Danger of Collapse’

The 2014 GOP “wave” elections brought big changes for executive and legislative offices but “stopped at the courthouse door,” Justice at Stake Executive Director Bert Brandenburg writes in a post-election analysis distributed by McClatchy Newspapers.

JAS-LogoThe same voters “chose to keep their elected judges from both parties. Americans want courts to be insulated from politics. Interest groups and partisans have other plans — and they’ll be back,” Brandenburg adds. His analysis looks at judicial elections, higher TV ad spending than four years ago and state ballot measures. Brandenburg concludes with a warning:

“Our state courts are under political siege. Our judges are trapped, pressured to raise money and appeal to interest groups on the campaign trail, and then rule on their supporters’ cases in court. Too many interest groups see the third branch of government as a tool to bend to their will. And too many politicians who know better are enabling them.

“The Constitution promises impartial justice. Our nation’s founders built a political culture that erects walls around the courts to keep them free from political pressure. But 21st century politics is tearing down these walls. This year’s wave didn’t flood the courts. But unless we raise new barriers against the growing tide of politics and big money, the very foundation of our judiciary — impartial justice — is in danger of collapse.”

EDITOR’S NOTE: In a version of the op-ed that ran in other papers, the phrase “dark money” was used incorrectly. We regret and have corrected the error.

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Report Urges Reforms for North Carolina Judicial Elections

Center for American ProgressA troubling correlation exists between contributions to North Carolina judicial campaigns by law firms and their success rates appearing before the state’s highest court, says a new report from the Center for American Progress:

“Among the ‘repeat-player’ law firms—those with several cases before the court each year—the firms that gave more campaign cash had higher success rates than those that gave smaller donations. In 1998, the first year of the analysis, law firms donating $400 or more won 53 percent of their cases, compared to 48 percent for firms giving less than $400. The firms that had more than five cases before the court and donated $400 or more won an astonishing 70 percent of their appeals, compared to 33 percent for firms with at least five cases giving less than $400 in donations.”

Read more

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Commentary: Partisan Judiciary Would Not Serve Minnesota Well

Minnesota_quarter,_reverse_side,_2005“What happens when partisanship takes over” in judicial elections? The result isn’t pretty or good for impartial justice, suggests Tom West in a Dairyland (Mn.) Peach commentary, answering his own question:

“Well, in 2013, Gov. Mark Dayton appointed long-time DFL activist David Lillehaug to the state Supreme Court. The Republicans then endorsed Michelle McDonald to challenge him. In September, less than two months before the election, McDonald was convicted of refusing to take a DWI test and obstruction of justice. Lillehaug still won, but throw out the votes from Hennepin, Ramsey and Clay counties, and McDonald would have prevailed. Lillehaug’s appointment was ill-advised, but McDonald was a poor alternative.”

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Candidate Requests Recount in N.C. Supreme Court Race

It is official: lawyer Mike Robinson has requested a recount of votes in his challenge to North Carolina Supreme Court Justice Cheri Beasley, whom he trails.

According to the Associated Press, with nearly 2.5 million votes cast in North Carolina, Justice Beasley leads Robinson by about 5,400 votes.

In another close election, Illinois Justice Lloyd Karmeier sought retention and secured 60.68 percent of votes counted on election night, the Madison-St. Clair Record reported. He needed 60 percent to win a new term. Outstanding ballots are to be counted by Tuesday, and the newspaper quoted an election attorney it hired as saying she doubted a challenge to his retention will be mounted.

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Defender of Retained Judge Blasts Ouster Campaign as ‘Immoral’

Screen-shot-2014-10-22-at-1.30.33-PMA  costly campaign to unseat Illinois Supreme Court Justice Lloyd Karmeier, heavily financed by plaintiffs’ attorneys with litigation before his court, included harshly negative robocalls and printed matter, a newspaper reports.

Illlinois voters retained Justice Karmeier on Election Day. The Madison-St. Clair Record, quoting from an interview with the judge’s friend and defender state Sen. Dave Leuchtefeld, said one robocall involved a self-described “conservative” calling for the unseating of “liberal” Karmeier. There was printed matter distributed to Republican households likening the judge to such “corrupt” Democratic politicians as former Gov. Rod Blagojevich. Read more

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JAS: Newly Victorious Judges Know ‘They Could Be Next’

With nearly $14 million spent on TV advertising in state judicial elections this year, there were results for impartial courts that go beyond the Election Day outcomes, Justice at Stake Executive Director Bert Brandenburg told National Law Journal.

JAS-Logo“On the one hand, none of the judges who faced severe attempts to oust them this year lost their jobs,” Brandenburg said. “On the other hand, every one of those judges knows they could be next.” The TV spending sum topped the $12.2 million  spent by outside groups, political parties and candidates for TV ads in the 2010 midterm.

The National Law Journal article recapped high points of a post-election analysis compiled by JAS and a partner organization, the Brennan Center for Justice.

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