Gavel Grab

Archive for December, 2010

Reform Advocate Joins WA Supreme Court

An advocate for limits on campaign contributions to judges and for public financing in judicial elections will take the oath of office for the Washington Supreme Court next month.

Lawyer and former state appeals court judge Charlie Wiggins defeated incumbent Justice Richard Sanders in a razor-thin victory in November; when Wiggins was certified the winner, he captured only 50.34 percent of the vote, according to a profile of the jurist in the Kitsap Sun.

“You can’t peg him as an activist or nonactivist judge, or a liberal or conservative,” said University of Washington law professor Bill Anderson. “I don’t think he’ll blaze any trails in any direction. I think he’ll just be a professional judge. Consistent, honorable, objective.”

Wiggins wrote a friend-of-the-court brief in the U.S. Supreme Court case Caperton v. Massey, on behalf of 27 former Supreme Court justices from 19 states.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled it was unconstitutional for a West Virginia Supreme Court justice to hear a case involving the financial interests of a major donor to his election campaign, and it required the justice to disqualify himself.

According to Wiggins’ campaign website, he argued in the amicus brief that the new West Virginia justice’s ability to be impartial was compromised, and that a justice should not sit on a case involving a company that donated money to his or her campaign.

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Short History for IA Judicial Impeachment

Iowa’s history of impeaching judges is quite short, and the (first and ) last episode occurred more than a century ago.

Around the country, more than a dozen states have addressed judicial impeachment in the past six years, with many of them targeting a particular judge for a controversial decision.

These intriguing facts are reported in dispatches, respectively, from the “Iowa Republican” blog and from  a media backgrounder by the National Center for State Courts. Together, they provide context for a proposal in Iowa’s legislature to impeach four state Supreme Court justices (see Gavel Grab).

In Iowa, the state House of Representatives has filed impeachment articles only three times, and none of the impeachment bids was successful in the Senate, according to the blog:

“With three recently elected State Representatives talking about impeaching the four remaining members of the Iowa Supreme Court, it is the appropriate time to look back at the state’s history of previous impeachments.”

“There has only been one impeachment attempt of a judge, and that stemmed from the fines and penalties he imposed as well as suspicion of collusion with the district attorney.”

The judicial impeachment try occurred in 1886. Read more

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Thursday Gavel Grab Briefs

In these other dispatches about fair and impartial courts:

“Then there’s the state Supreme Court race, which is shaping up to be another mud bath featuring millions of dollars in attack ads soiling the high court’s image. It’s a terrible way to select our top judges, who unlike other elected officials are supposed to be impartial and insulated from public influence.”

  • Once ravaged by corruption, the Luzerne County (Pennsylvania) judiciary now has made “an amazing comeback,” according to a Scranton Times Leader article that is headlined, “Restoring our justice.”
  • California Chief Justice Ronald George, who will step down Jan. 2, leaves a “historic legacy,” according to a Los Angeles Times profile of the jurist.
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Essay: 'Lack of Trust Undermines Our Courts'

Pennsylvanians have been served up a full menu of news articles lately about questionable judicial ethics, policies on gifts to judges and such benefits as car leases for certain judges.

In the wake of these reports, our friends at Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts have written a thoughtful commentary in the Philadelphia Inquirer, entitled “Judges must increase confidence of public: Lack of trust can undermine court’s foundations.”

Shira Goodman and Lynn A. Marks engage not in judge-bashing but instead in searching for ways to bridge the confidence gap, which they label a “disconnect,” between the public and the courts. Here is how they capsulize the issue:

“Both judges and members of the public are frustrated that those on the other side of the bench don’t seem to understand the key points. As this disconnect persists, collaboration between those who use the courts and those who work in the courts becomes more elusive.” Read more

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Money Appeal Made to Remove IA Justices

Conservative leader Bob Vander Plaats is seeking to raise money in order to remove four Iowa Supreme Court justices.

“Our interest is to engage our (supporters) and try to determine their interest in the call for getting the judges to resign as well as their interest in impeachment if they don’t resign,” the Associated Press quoted Vander Plaats as saying today.

He was a leader of the ouster campaign that resulted in votes denying re-election to three justices on Election Day (to learn more, see Gavel Grab). They were on the retention election ballot and were targeted for their role in a unanimous state Supreme Court ruling that legalized same-sex marriages in Iowa.

Now Vander Plaats heads a group called The Family Leader. The money that he wants to raise will be spent on direct mail, robo-calls, polling, and online ads, Vander Plaats said.

“When the Legislature gets called into session, we will be ready with our strategy on what direction we want the Legislature and the governor to move,” he said.

An e-mail that he sent out made the following appeal, according to a Sioux City Journal blog:

Will you help us raise $8,000 by January 1st to restore credibility of the Iowa Supreme Court? We cannot allow unelected judges to encroach on the authority of our duly elected Legislature.”

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Young to Gain MI Chief Justice Post?

Justice Robert P. Young Jr. of the Michigan Supreme Court survived a tumultuous campaign season to win re-election. Now he’s turning his skills to winning the post of Michigan chief justice.

The “deeply conservative” justice, as a Detroit News article portrayed him, told the newspaper he has nailed down enough votes to win the top job Jan. 5. Conservatives have won a 4-3 majority on the court. (The image above is taken from a political ad by his campaign.)

Justice Young told the newspaper that the high court has traveled “beyond some of the deeply personal acrimony” between liberal and conservative jurists that contributed to vicious elections this year.

“We’re already on a much better trajectory than we’ve been during my 11 years,” he said. “I’m very optimistic that everybody really wants to turn the page. We don’t want to continue to be at one another’s necks. The campaign is over, and I’m looking forward to vigorous but not personal and negative debate about the things that really matter.”

During the campaign slugfest, former Justice Elizabeth Weaver accused Justice Young of having used the N-word and sexist language during a conference of the justices, and she disclosed a transcript from a recording she had made. Last month, the state Supreme Court censured her (see Gavel Grab). Read more

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Wednesday Gavel Grab Briefs

In these other dispatches about fair and impartial courts:

  • President Obama’s in-their-face “scolding” of the Supreme Court over its Citizens United ruling at the State of the Union address, and Justice Samuel Alito Jr.’s headshake and mouthing “not true” in response, marked the defining moments of the high court’s year, Tony Mauro writes in a National Journal commentary.
  • In Wisconsin,  a state board adopted an emergency rule that may make it harder for citizens to know who is funding certain political attack ads, the Associated Press reported. Among critics of the rule was Mike McCabe of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, a Justice at Stake partner.

“[T]he branch of government that’s done a reasonably good job of protecting the public’s right to keep an eye on legislators, governors and presidents has kept itself beyond the reach of the most immediate and, at times, most accurate means of informing the people about government’s activities.”

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Health-Care Judges Hold Industry Stocks

Three federal judges hearing challenges to the new federal health law hold shares of companies in the industry, a Bloomberg article quoted the watchdog group Center for Public Integrity as reporting.

They are District Judge Keith Starrett, weighing a Mississippi lawsuit challenging the law; District Judge Gladys Kessler in Washington; and District Judge Michael Schneider, based in Tyler, Texas.

“If a conflict arises, I will divest myself either of the case or of the stock,” Judge Starrett said.

Gavel Grab has mentioned earlier that District Judge Henry Hudson of Virginia, who recently struck down a key section of President Obama’s health care law, holds an ownership interest in a Republican consulting firm, Campaign Solutions Inc.

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Turner Sentenced for Threats on Judges

Internet radio host and conservative blogger Harold Turner, convicted in August of threatening the lives of three federal appeals court judges, was sentenced recently to 33 months in prison.

Turner was convicted at this third trial on the charges. At his sentencing this month, he maintained he was innocent and lambasted U.S. District Judge Donald E. Walter and the Chicago-based assistant U.S. attorneys who prosecuted him, accusing them of  for manipulating the legal system, according to a Bergen County Record article.

One of the judges who was threatened said he was pleased, even though Turner got the minimum prison time.

“It’s all right, Hal Turner is a minimum guy,” said Judge William Joseph Bauer of the Eighth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, The Jersey Journal reported.

You can learn more about his case from Gavel Grab.

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Tuesday Gavel Grab Briefs

In these other dispatches about fair and impartial courts:

  • From Arizona, there are reports of murmurs in the legislature about a possible move to restore direct election of judges for the state Supreme Court, the state Court of Appeals and the superior courts in Maricopa and Pima counties, according to an Arizona Business Gazette article by Capitol Media Services.
  • A nonprofit group called Tennesseeans for Fair and Impartial Courts is seeking donations, according to a Nashville Post article, to defend the Tennessee Plan for selecting judges from assaults by those who would like to move to partisan judicial elections. All appeals court judges currently are chosen through merit selection.
  • Justice Roberto Rivera-Soto of the New Jersey Supreme Court, whose recent actions have spurred calls for resignation or even talk about impeachment (see Gavel Grab), is the subject of a profile in the Philadelphia Inquirer.
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