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Archive for the 'Merit Selection' Category

Editorial Urges Appointment of Wisconsin Supreme Court Justices

sealIn Wisconsin, site of an ongoing investigation of possible illegal coordination between outside groups and recall campaigns, the campaign of Gov. Scott Walker has asked the state Supreme Court to bypass lower courts and intervene in the investigation.

Now an editorial in the Beloit Daily News suggests a specter of a potential conflict of interest is raised by this latest development, because conservative justices on the high court “have received support totaling several million dollars from some of the groups apparently involved” in the “John Doe” investigation, as the probe is called.

Rather than hammer at the justices for them to recuse — which the editorial says is a decision for each of the jurists — it renews a call for a shift to the appointment of Supreme Court justices through a merit selection process, from the current election of these judges. It says the court should be an “honest referee”:

“No campaigns. No trolling for dollars. No questions about favors owed to donors. Read more

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Potential Changes for Merit Selection in Alaska and Florida

The possibility of moving merit selection legislation forward in several states was covered on Gavel Grab last week.  Since then some of the mentioned changes have moved forward in Alaska and Florida as reported on Gavel to Gavel.

In Alaska, two bills have the potential to alter the state’s Judicial Council.  While one went into limbo due to a canceled hearing, the SJR 21 was amended and voted on in the Senate Finance Committee and will be advanced to the Senate Floor.

Meanwhile, the Florida Senate has advanced a proposed constitutional amendment to allow governors to make “prospective appointments” for anticipated appellate court vacancies.  If the amendment goes on to be approved and Republican Governor Rick Scott is reelected, he could fill all three seats on the state supreme court currently being held by Democrat-appointed justices.

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Report: Merit Selection on the Agenda in Three States this Week

This week has the potential to be a big week for merit selection in three states, according to Bill Raftery of Gavel to Gavel.  He reports that Alaska, Florida and Minnesota are all mulling changes to their systems, with the potential for action soon.

Gavel Grab has previously covered the former Alaska Attorney General’s comments opposing changes to the state’s judicial selection process.  Currently, two proposed constitutional amendments are before the state legislature, one in the Senate and one in the House, with a hearing on the Senate bill expected today. Each measure would increase the governor’s number of appointments to the state’s Judicial Council.

Meanwhile, in Florida, the Senate is expected to take up a proposed constitutional amendment to allow outgoing governors to make “prospective appointments” for anticipated appellate court vacancies.  (See Gavel Grab.) The measure has already passed two Senate committees.

Finally, in Minnesota, legislators are weighing two bills, carried over from 2013, that aim to expand the state’s merit selection for interim vacancies at the trial court level as well as provide a judicial performance evaluation system.  Read previous Gavel Grab coverage here.

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Editorial Urges Judicial Selection Reform in Marion County, Indiana

There is need to revisit the way that judges are chosen in Marion County, Indiana’s largest county, because the current system leaves it to political party leaders to choose judges and it may violate the Code of Judicial Conduct, an Indianapolis Star editorial says.

The editorial came on the heels of an investigative report by the newspaper that asked whether payments of $12,000 to $14,000 to the county Republican and Democratic parties, asked of judicial candidates in advance of a May primary, could violate the ethics code (see Gavel Grab).

The editorial takes a stand in favor of a merit-based selection system when considering reforms:

“Of course, no system for selecting judges is perfect, and politics never can be removed fully when picking judges. But a merit selection system involving a nominating committee, favored by the American and Indiana bar associations, among others, offers the best chance for straining as much partisanship as possible from the process. At the least, the General Assembly needs to revisit the 2006 legislation that not only shuts the public out of making decisions on who serves as a judge but also limits competition for those crucial positions.”

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Minnesota Merit Selection Proposal Advances in State Senate

gavel_cash-300x202A proposed constitutional amendment to change the way judges are selected in Minnesota advanced out of a state Senate subcommittee after its supporters contended it would help avoid the kind of partisan, high-spending judicial elections seen in other states.

“You folks run on platforms,” former Minnesota Supreme Court Justice Eric Magnuson told legislators, according to the Minneapolis Star Tribune. “A judge can’t run on a platform. That’s antithetical to what a judge does. A judge decides cases based on the law and fact in front of him or her.”

Added Sarah Walker, president of the Coalition for Impartial Justice,  ”All you have to do is look around the country …. to see that high-cost partisan elections are sweeping the country, and it’s not far off in Minnesota.” Read more

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In Sauk Centre, MN, Concern About ‘Sham’ Judicial Elections

Judicial elections in Minnesota are a “sham” today, and “it may be worth it for Minnesota voters to have a discussion on the topic this fall,” Tom West, editor of the Sauk Centre Dairyland Peach, writes in an opinion column for the paper.

Sauk Centre had a population of more than 4,000 in the last census, and West offers a style that is more biting and folksy than much other discussion of a proposed constitutional amendment to change the way judges are selected in Minnesota (see Gavel Grab for background about the merit-selection proposal).

He recalls the time more than three decades ago when a  judge in Fillmore County had an affair with his secretary, presided over a portion of the divorce proceedings between her and her husband, was censured, and was re-elected. Local voters opposed the judge’s re-election but voters further away in the district did not know of the episode, West writes. It’s evidence that Minnesota’s current system for electing judges needs to be changed, he adds.

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Commentary: MN Merit Foes Favor Ideology Over Best Judges

quie_4cEyeing  a proposal to change the way Minnesota judges are selected, a Minneapolis Star Tribune editorial writer says the proposal’s foes are driven by ideology, not by a desire to choose the most qualified judges.

The proposed constitutional amendment calls for  gubernatorial appointment of judges from a list of finalists recommended by a merit selection commission, a retention (up-or-down) election if the judge seeks to stay on the bench, and nonpartisan evaluation of judges’ performance by an independent performance evaluation commission. The bipartisan Coalition for Impartial Justice is pushing for its adoption. In the newspaper essay, Lori Sturdevant criticizes the measure’s foes, who wish to preserve contested judicial elections:

“The anti-retention crowd favors more high-profile, wedge-issue, big-money battles between sitting judges and challengers of their choosing. They want to dump judges they dislike and replace them with their own ilk.”

Among prominent advocates for the Impartial Justice Act is former Gov. Al Quie (photo), a Republican.  “The goal is to improve the chances that justice Read more

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Lobbying for ‘Impartial Justice Act’ Kicks Off in Minnesota

justice-scalesA bipartisan group called the Coalition for Impartial Justice kicked off its public lobbying effort at Minnesota’s capitol on Wednesday to push for a change in the way state judges are chosen.

Some neighboring states have experienced high-spending judicial elections marked by partisanship, and the Minnesota reformers are seeking to head off such developments by winning passage of a proposed constitutional amendment. It calls for  gubernatorial appointment of judges from a list of finalists recommended by a merit selection commission, a retention (up-or-down) election if the judge seeks to stay on the bench, and nonpartisan evaluation of judges’ performance by an independent performance evaluation commission.

“The judicial system works because people trust it and they don’t think it is bought and paid for,” said former Minnesota Supreme Court Chief Justice Eric Magnuson, according to a Minneapolis Star Tribune article. An appointee of then-GOP Gov. Tim Pawlenty, Justice Magnuson is a prominent advocate for the amendment, called the Impartial Justice Act.

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Merit Matters: A Judge Explains Why He’s Retiring Early

TGM2District Court Judge Thomas McCarthy of Sibley County, Minnesota says he’s retiring early in order to let the governor, instead of voters, choose his successor — because the appointive process is more likely to seat more qualified jurists, he says.

Judge McCarthy shares his frank opinion in a Star Tribune column. He strongly approves of the thorough process undertaken by the Judicial Selection Committee to vet applicants for a judgeship and make recommendations to the governor for a mid-term vacancy, and he’s more skeptical that a contested election will result in selection of the best candidate:

“It may be claimed that an educated electorate can be just as effective of an arbiter of these qualifications as the Selection Committee. In a perfect world, that would be true. However, I have been in other states during campaign seasons, and have seen and heard television, radio and newspaper advertisements on behalf of judicial candidates. At best, they give a brief sketch Read more

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Proposal to Revise Alaska Screening Commission is Debated

state-flag-alaskaA proposed amendment to the Alaska constitution, sponsored by a group of Republican senators, would revamp membership of the Alaska Judicial Council and effectively give control of the panel to the governor.

The council serves dual roles, as both a judicial nominating commission and a judicial performance evaluation board, according to Gavel to Gavel, a publication of the National Center for State Courts. The proposed amendment would expand the council’s membership from seven to 16 including 10 members appointed by the governor, subject to legislative confirmation; five appointed by the state Bar; and also the sitting Chief Justice. Currently the seven members include the Chief Justice, three attorney members appointed by the Bar and three non-attorney members appointed by the governor subject to legislative confirmation.

An Alaska Public Media report said the council has become something of a “lightning rod” because of its influence over whom the governor appoints to the bench.

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