Archive for the 'Justice at Stake' Category
Attorney Manuel “Manny” Medrano of Los Angeles, a former federal prosecutor and former TV broadcast journalist, has joined the Justice at Stake board of directors, JAS announced on Tuesday.
Medrano is the recipient of numerous honors related to his trial practice. He is also an Emmy and Golden Mike award-winning broadcast journalist. He has served as a judge pro tem, and currently is a partner at Medrano & Carlton, a white collar firm.
Mark Harrison, chairman of the JAS Board of Directors, said Medrano “brings outstanding experience as a lawyer, journalist, pro tem judge and legal commentator. Mr. Medrano understands first-hand the critical importance of fair and impartial courts and also how to communicate this importance to the public.”
Bert Brandenburg, executive director of Justice at Stake, said Medrano not only has “distinguished, multifaceted experience in the law, he also was the first Latino to serve in the U.S. Supreme Court press corps. Justice at Stake works hard to increase diversity on the bench, an objective that Mr. Medrano understands better than many others.”
A prominent West Virginia attorney says the public has lost its faith in fair and impartial courts, but “[i]t doesn’t have to be that way,” Justice at Stake Executive Director Bert Brandenburg writes in a Charleston Gazette op-ed.
Brandenburg spotlights West Virginia’s adoption this year of a permanent law for the public financing of judicial elections, after he mentions an earlier instance of runaway campaign spending that “gave the courts a black eye in West Virginia and beyond” and resulted in a landmark U.S. Supreme Court ruling, Caperton v. Massey:
“Public financing isn’t perfect, and it doesn’t fix every problem with judicial elections. But it does at least one very important thing: It allows judicial candidates to opt in to a system that protects them from having to solicit money from the same lawyers, businesses and other parties who may appear before them in court. Read more
Justice at Stake discussed the need to fill vacant federal judgeships, the importance of the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals and other topics in an appearance on Sirius satellite radio’s Left Jab talk show.
Praveen Fernandes, JAS director of federal affairs and diversity initiatives, appeared on the show shortly after the U.S. Senate voted last week to change its rules in order to eliminate filibusters of most nominees, except for justices on the Supreme Court. Fernandes elaborated on Justice at Stake’s views this way:
“Justice at Stake had no formal position on filibuster reform. What we had was a formal position on the fact that our judiciary can’t be the institution it needs to be, can’t deliver justice if it’s continuing to occupy a position where 10 percent of its seats sit vacant. And so what we needed to have is this obstruction end. And so this is one means of doing it, and frankly we’re a little sad that it came to that.
“When this happened we were incredibly happy about the prospect of at least breaking the log jam of federal nominations.”
Senate Democrats laid the groundwork for a controversial procedure to change the rules after Republicans had blocked three of President Obama’s for the D.C. Circuit Court, by filibustering and refusing to allow an up-or-down vote. With that delaying tool eliminated, it is expected that action to confirm the trio of nominees will begin after the Senate completes its holiday recess.
The D.C. court is considered the “second most important appellate court in the country because it is the court of jurisdiction for a variety of different [critical] cases,” Fernandes said. He also discussed numerous other issues of concern to Justice at Stake and other defenders of fair and impartial courts in the talk radio show segment.
Justice at Stake’s role in the forefront of work to achieve a more diverse federal and state judiciary is the topic of a lengthy explanatory article in the latest edition of Diversity and the Bar, a publication of the Minority Corporate Counsel Association.
“A lack of diversity on the bench is a threat to equal justice and protection of our rights and can even be a barrier to access justice,” Bert Brandenburg, JAS executive director, told the magazine. “We view this as critical to our mission.”
“Diverse benches increase public confidence in the fairness and impartiality of the courts,” said Praveen Fernandes, JAS director of federal affairs and diversity initiatives. “There is evidence to suggest that diversity on the bench strengthens judicial decision-making, as it helps avoid group-think and helps to ensure that thorny legal issues are approached with rigor and thoroughness from all angles.” Read more
A national news media report about Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor’s questioning the impartiality of elected Alabama judges also spotlighted public concerns as evidenced in a recent poll commissioned by Justice at Stake.
In a dissent (see Gavel Grab), Justice Sotomayor wrote that elected Alabama judges “appear to have succumbed to electoral pressures” in overruling juries to impose death sentences. NPR, in covering her dissent, cited the recent poll by JAS and the Brennan Center for Justice, a JAS partner group:
“Sotomayor is not the only one who might harbor concerns about elected judges. Thirty-eight states elect their Supreme Court judges, and in a national poll released last month by Justice at Stake and the Brennan Center, 70 percent of respondents felt that it was a very serious problem when elected judges have received a contribution from an ‘individual, attorney, business, or interest group’ presenting a case before them. In fact, 92 percent of respondents felt that judges should step aside in such cases.” Read more
This year’s #GivingTuesday date is just two weeks away, on Dec. 3. Justice at Stake will be one of more than 4,000 groups participating in the effort, which gives people a chance to focus on supporting their favorite causes.
In a letter to supporters about #GivingTuesday, JAS Executive Director Bert Brandenburg writes, “Justice at Stake is ready to give back. Will you pledge and give your support? Express how thankful you are this holiday season by supporting the courts—the same courts that protect your rights every day.”
Will you join the #GivingTuesday movement? You can help Justice at Stake spread the word about #GivingTuesday by pledging your support or donating online. You can also help by sharing our #GivingTuesday themed Facebook posts; donating a tweet to Justice at Stake; or if you are a federal employee, participate in the Combined Federal Campaign drive which has been extended to January 15, 2014 (Justice at Stake – CFC #47694).
MSNBC has featured Justice at Stake Executive Director Bert Brandenburg paired with a former state Supreme Court chief justice in a segment on the Craig Melvin show entitled, “Judges for Sale?”
The recently released “New Politics of Judicial Elections 2011-12″ report disclosed that a record $33.7 million was spent on TV advertising in state court elections during the latest cycle, Melvin said, and he interviewed Brandenburg and former Chief Justice Wallace Jefferson of the Texas Supreme Court about the implications of this soaring spending.
“People spend money because they want something out of the courts,” Brandenburg said, suggesting that the “tort wars” are in turn becoming “the court wars” waged over tilting the scales of justice in state high courts across the country. “In the end,” Brandenburg warned, “the public is wondering, ‘Is Justice for Sale?’”
Former Justice Jefferson said that in Texas, few people actually know the qualifications of numerous judges listed on a ballot, and voters end up casting a ballot along straight-party lines. “That’s why it’s a broken system — accountability doesn’t work in this context,” he said. Read more
Two Pennsylvania Supreme Court justices spent an estimated $317,500 on TV advertisements to help retain their seats when voters went to the polls this week, according to estimates released by the Brennan Center for Justice and Justice at Stake on Friday.
The spending came in what are generally considered low-key judicial races, where Chief Justice Ron Castille (left of two photos) and Justice Max Baer (right of two photos) successfully ran for another term in retention (up-or-down) elections, the groups said in a statement.
Chief Justice Castille spent an estimated $66,000 while Justice Baer spent an estimated $251,000. Before Election Day, the Independence Hall Tea Party PAC issued a press release urging Pennsylvanians to vote against retaining both justices, as a result of their not upholding the state’s Voter ID Law in a 2012 ruling. Pennsylvania group Rock the Capital also campaigned against Chief Justice Castille.
The Brennan Center is a Justice at Stake partner organization.
“Taking the financial reins from outside special-interest groups and giving them back to the local committee parties and candidates could reduce some of the extreme hostility and negativity in ads. But money finds whatever crevice it can, and flows into groups which are less transparent and less accountable,” retired Indiana Supreme Court Chief Justice Randall T. Shepard said at a panel discussion about The New Politics of Judicial Elections 2011-2012 report.
Justice Shepard told the Kansas City InfoZone about the importance of keeping campaign money and strategies out of judicial elections. The report showed that of the $56.4 million spent on state judicial elections, $24.1 million came from special interest groups and political parties.
Bert Brandenburg, executive director of Justice at Stake, said the goal of keeping conflicts of interest out of the courtroom, “is being worn away steadily a year at a time by a relentless campaign of big money spending and political bullying.”
Citing data from the recently released The New Politics of Judicial Elections report, a Moyers & Company article warns that “…state high courts are falling prey to the same out-of-control, post-Citizens United election spending that has plagued legislative and executive races during the past two election cycles.”
The John Light article titled, “Dark Money’s New Frontier: State Judicial Elections,” highlighted that more than $56 million was spent on state high court races across the country. A significant chunk of this money came from special interests one would expect to find operating at the national level – $19.6 million of the $56.4 million total.
The story notes that last year’s election wasn’t the first time large sums of money were spent on judicial elections, but until recently, the majority came from a judge’s personal campaign war chest. What’s new is the influx of special interest money.