Gavel Grab

Archive for the 'Justice at Stake' Category

Public Interest Lawyers Face Tough Path to Federal Bench

The need for professional diversity on the federal bench led Justice at Stake to cosign a letter with 31 other groups urging senators to recommend judicial nominees with experience advocating for the public interest.

According to an article by Think Progress, the problem runs deep.

“But the truth is that public interest lawyers who wish to become judges face a much deeper structural problem than Senate procedure or the attitudes of particular elected officials — and it’s not at all clear that this structural problem has a solution.”

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JAS, Other Groups Urge Professional Diversity on Bench

Justice at Stake was among more than 30 organizations writing a letter that urges U.S. senators to consider professional diversity when considering judicial candidates.

JAS-LogoThe letter contending that a greater diversity of professional backgrounds is needed on the federal courts was signed by labor, civil rights and good government groups, Federal Times reported. The letter stated in part:

“A truly diverse judiciary … not only reflects the gender, ethnic, sexual orientation, disability, and racial diversity of the nation, but also includes judges who come from all corners of the legal profession — and particularly those who have worked in the public interest, representing those whose voices are otherwise rarely heard. This sort of professional diversity both enhances judicial decisionmaking and is essential to the public’s trust in our justice system. Read more

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JAS Featured at Georgetown Law School Judicial Elections Event

Left to right: Seaton, Corriher and Clark delivered insightful information.

Left to right: Panelists Seaton, Corriher and Clark

Justice at Stake’s Deputy Executive Director Liz Seaton spoke on a panel today that discussed findings of a new report, “Judicial Selection and Death Penalty Decisions.” The report looks at how the election process affects judges and the decisions they make in death penalty cases.

Justice at Stake coauthored “The New Politics of Judicial Elections 2011-2012,” with the Brennan Center for Justice and the National Institute on Money in State Politics. It tracks at special interest spending and the impact of television ads on judicial elections.


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New Oregon Poll: 80 Percent Believe Cash Could Influence Judges

Justice at Stake and Common Cause Oregon released a new poll today revealing that 80 percent of voters polled believe that contributions from individuals, attorneys, businesses and interest groups have either some or a great deal of influence on a judge’s decision involving one of those donors.

“It’s not that people are faulting judges,” said Kate Titus, Executive Director of Common Cause Oregon, noting that the poll also shows greater public confidence in judges than in the governor or state legislature. “But people recognize the problem of judges needing to take private money to run for office. Even the perception of influence weakens the judicial system.”

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From JAS-Moderated Tennessee Panel, Warnings of Justice at Risk

gavel_cash-300x202A panel of attorneys questioned at a Vanderbilt University Law School forum whether shifting to contested elections of appellate judges would put justice at risk in Tennessee. Justice at Stake’s Debra Erenberg, director of state affairs, moderated the panel.

Charles Grant, president of the Nashville Bar Association, warned about paving the way for big spending by special interests and cautioned that popular elections would prove “disastrous.” He said, “We don’t need any more examples than the ones we’ve all read about from around the country where popular elections have taken hold and special interests have dominated.”

“You’re going to see 30-second sound bites. You’re going to hear the sucking sound of money coming in to judicial candidates,” said Tom Lawless, chairman of the Governor’s Commission for Judicial Appointments, Read more

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National Association of Women Judges to Honor Justice at Stake

national-association-of-women-judgesThe National Association of Women Judges will present its “Partners in Justice Award” to Justice at Stake at a reception in Washington, D.C. on Thursday.

The award will be accepted by JAS Executive Director Bert Brandenburg. It will be presented in appreciation of Justice at Stake’s contribution to NAWJ’s “Informed Voters, Fair Judges” project, a nonpartisan voter education program developed to increase citizens’ knowledge of our judicial system.

The project arose out of NAWJ’s recognition that the ability of our courts to deliver on their fundamental promise of justice for all is threatened by the politicization of judicial races by powerful special interests. NAWJ is a JAS partner organization.

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JAS to Participate in TN ‘Judicial Selection at the Crossroads’ Panel

justice-scalesJustice at Stake will participate in a panel discussion at Vanderbilt Law School on March 21 entitled “Judicial Selection at the Crossroads: How Tennessee Picks its Judges.”

Debra Erenberg, JAS state affairs director, will moderate the panel. Its members will include Vanderbilt Law School Professor Alistair Newbern as chair, and four attorneys involved in the state’s debate over judicial selection: Margaret Behm, Charles K. Grant, Tom Lawless and state Rep. Michael G. Stewart.

According to the Vanderbilt University News, the panel will be convened as part of a two day conference on “Justice at Risk: Research Opportunities and Policy Alternatives Regarding State Judicial Selection.” The conference will examine the role of money in judicial elections. Sponsors will be the American Constitution Society, the American Judicature Society and Vanderbilt Law School; AJS is a Justice at Stake partner organization. Read more

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JAS: Will Best Lawyers Shy From Representing Accused Criminals?

The U.S. Senate’s blocking at least temporarily the nomination of Debo Adegbile, a respected civil rights lawyer, to a top Justice Department post (see Gavel Grab) has big implications for defenders of fair and impartial courts, Justice at Stake’s Praveen Fernandes said in an interview available on YouTube.

Because some senators voiced opposition based on Adegbile’s having represented a defendant convicted of killing a police officer, such concerns could spill over to other lawyers and  lead to their reticence to handle cases of accused criminals, said Fernandes, who is JAS director of federal affairs and diversity initiatives.

“To the extent that people, lawyers, are being penalized for their representation of criminal defendants, there’s a real concern in the fair courts community that this will lead to bright lawyers avoiding representing criminal defendants,” Fernandes said. Read more

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JAS Cited in Article on New Judicial Recusal Rule in Pennsylvania

A new recusal rule for Pennsylvania judges who hear cases involving campaign contributors (see Gavel Grab) will take effect in July, an Allentown Morning Call article reports. In providing context for the rule, the article cites Justice at Stake and two of its partner organizations.

According to a poll commissioned last year by Justice at Stake and the Brennan Center for Justice, almost 90 percent of voters think judges’ decisions are  influenced to at least some extent by campaign donations, and more than 90 percent said judges should step aside when a party in a case before them has contributed directly or indirectly to a judge’s election campaign.

As Matthew Menendez of the Brennan Center put it, “Imagine that, God forbid, you get hit by a car and you’re badly hurt, and it turns out the driver is the biggest campaign contributor to the judge on that case.” He added, “Everyone should have confidence that they can receive a fair shake in court.” Read more

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JAS Arizona Event Highlights Importance of Diversity on the Bench

Former Arizona Supreme Court Chief Justice Ruth McGregor delivered some compelling statistics about the lack of diversity on the bench, nationally and locally, according to a blog submission in AZ Attorney.

“Diverse experiences can be used in appropriate circumstances to better understand the case at hand. The presence of diverse voices broadens discussion and analysis,” Justice McGregor told the audience at the kickoff event co-sponsored by Justice at Stake.

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