Gavel Grab

Archive for March, 2009

Opinion Confuses Tennessee Debate

Attempts to end Tennessee’s system of appointing appellate judges have encountered a signfiicant snag. According to a news article, the state attorney general said judicial vacancies can’t be filled unless the legislature passes new laws laying out how judicial elections will be held.

The opinion from Attorney General Robert Cooper was sought by four Senate Republicans, whose party leaders have led attempts to end Tennessee’s system of appointing appellate and Supreme Court judges. The senators said they may either have to write laws with new election procedures, or to maintain the state’s current practice of using a judicial selection commission to identify slates of judicial nominees.

The legislature last year allowed the nominating commission to begin expiring through a “sunset” provision,” which would happen by July 1 if the state legislature does not shift course. According to an article in the Memphis Commercial Appeal, Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey (R), who has helped push efforts to scrap the commission process, said he expects some movement toward a compromise this week.

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links for 2009-03-31

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links for 2009-03-28

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Alabama Rejects Bills for Nonpartisan Elections

The Alabama Legislature has voted down two bills that would remove politics from judicial elections, according to a report by the Associate Press.

The bills would have created nonpartisan elections and limited campaign contributions for appellate judge candidates. While the votes split along party lines, as Republicans voted against and Democrats in favor of the bills, Alabama Chief Justice Sue Bell Cobb, who supported the legislation, declared that “‘Poll after poll has shown that the people don’t believe that politics should be involved in judges’ races.'”

To find out more about Alabama, you can visit other Gavel Grab postings.

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Tennessee Judges Urge State to Keep Merit Selection

Choose Judges on Merit, the blog of Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts, has marked this article in the Triangle Business Journal.

As the Tennessee Legislature debates whether to retain merit selection, appellate court judges, such as Justice William Koch, support the system: “‘[We] believe in merit selection as an appropriate, effective and efficient way to select and retain judges.’”

To see the full posting, click here.

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links for 2009-03-27

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Editorial Calls for Recusal in Caperton

As the nation awaits a decision on Caperton v. Massey, a Boston Globe editorial is calling for the U.S. Supreme Court to “slow a dismaying trend toward the auctioning off of judgeships by deep-pocketed special interests.”

Although Massachusetts practices gubernatorial appointments, 39 states elect their judges in “campaigns that are as bare-knuckled and richly financed as any political seat.” This system raises questions about the impartiality of judges who were financially supported by special interest groups.

Caperton is a prime example: a coal company CEO spent $3 million to help elect a West Virginia Supreme Court justice who later overturned a $50 million lawsuit against the company. The Court must now decide whether the justice’s actions created an unconstitutional “‘appearance of bias.’”

As the editorial argues, “If the justices condone this travesty, they will be letting the well-heeled place their ingots of gold on justice’s scale.”

The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to reach a decision by the summer.

For more information regarding Caperton v. Massey, you can visit the Justice at Stake Caperton resource site.

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Texas Judge Responds to Impeachment Charges

A Texas judge has responded to charges she violated her judicial duties by refusing to keep her office open after business hours for a late execution appeal.

According to an article in the Austin American-Statesman, Sharon Keller (right), presiding judge of the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, denied the charges being considered by the State Commission on Judicial Conduct, offering a list of facts that were not considered by the commission.

Keller argued she was never aware defense attorneys had computer problems as they attempted to file a late appeal.  She concedes she had stated the county clerk’s office could not remain open after 5 p.m., but adds that she “never intend[ed] to shut Richard’s lawyers out of the court.”

The full text of Keller’s response can be found here.

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First Ad Attack in Wisconsin Supreme Court Race

A liberal group’s advertisement has struck the first blow in the Wisconsin Supreme Court race, an article in the Chicago Tribune reports.

With two weeks to go before the election, the Greater Wisconsin Committee released a TV ad attacking Jefferson County Circuit Judge Randy Koschnick (left), who is challenging Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson (right). Specifically, Koschnick was accused of supporting “corporate special interests, the wealthy and powerful and against victims” (his campaign denies the accusation).

Although third-party groups had been inactive until that point, special interests have been heavily involved in past Wiscons high court, including a spot–condemned as misleading by the Annenberg Polical Fact Check–that helped oust incumbent Louis Butler. (A storyboard of one of the ads can be found here.) Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, who sponsored Butler’s successful opponent, stated they would not be financially active in this year’s race.

For more information on Wisconsin, you can visit other Gavel Grab postings.

Update: The ad can be seen here:
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links for 2009-03-26

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