Gavel Grab

Campaign Finance Measures Advance in California, Massachusetts

campaign_financeCalifornia Gov. Jerry Brown said he will allow citizens to vote this fall on an advisory measure asking Congress to revise the U.S. Constitution and overturn the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling.

Citizens United was “wrongly decided and grossly underestimated the corrupting influence of unchecked money on our democratic institutions,” the governor said in a message to legislators, according to the Los Angeles Times. However, he said the advisory measure would have no legal effect and he would not sign it.

In Massachusetts, meanwhile, the state House has passed legislation to require greater public disclosure by super PACs, and the Senate will consider it. Read more

No comments

Record Spending Ahead in L.A. Court Primary Race?

gavel-and-cash.125192919_stdA primary contest for a Los Angeles Superior Court seat is likely to see record spending by one of two candidates, Deputy District Attorney Helen Kim, the Metropolitan News-Enterprise reports.

Kim’s campaign had raised more than $853,000 and spent more than $415,000 by May 17.  The primary will be held June 3. Her campaign’s next spending report will be due July 31.

The campaign of Deputy District Attorney Alison Matsumoto Estrada, opposing Kim, had raised $144,000 and had less than $17,000 on hand 10 days ago. The past record spending for a Los Angeles Superior Court judgeship in a primary contest was $450,000, in a race two years ago.

Donors to the Kim and Estrada campaigns included attorneys and judges.

No comments

Critical Ads in Judicial Elections Draw Attention, Questions

RobinHudsonAttackAdAds critical of judicial candidates are getting attention, and questioning, in news media reports from several states.

As Gavel Grab mentioned earlier, a TV ad in the North Carolina Supreme Court primary said incumbent Justice Robin Hudson was “not tough on child molesters.” Raleigh News & Observer columnist Rob Christensen now writes that $1.3 million spent linking the judge and child molesters “was too extreme.” It is evidence that voters “know when one [negative ad] doesn’t pass the smell test” that the ad “backfired and Hudson led the primary field,” he adds.

Meanwhile, regarding an Arkansas Supreme Court race set for May 20, a Times Record article focused on an ad by the Law Enforcement Alliance of America that accuses a candidate of believing that child pornography is a victimless crime.

The Arkansas Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers condemned the ad. “To challenge the qualifications of a judicial candidate for fulfilling a constitutional mandate of a person’s right to counsel is to belittle one of the core beliefs of this country,” said Justin Eisele, the group’s president. Read more

No comments

Ethics Watchdog Casts ‘Ballot Against Judicial Elections’

“I cast my ballot against judicial elections,” writes Jessica Levinson, who teaches at Loyola Law School-Los Angeles, in a Los Angeles Times op-ed. Her essay is entitled, “Why voters shouldn’t be electing judges.”

In an explanatory piece about how judicial elections for lower courts in California work — or fall short of working — Levinson points out how little meaningful information voters know about judicial candidates and how lawyers who appear before judges are most likely to make contributions in judicial elections. She goes on to cite the “New Politics of Judicial Elections 2011-12” compiled by JAS and two partner organizations:

“It is problematic for judicial candidates to ask for and receive money from those who may have cases before them in the future. A 2013 report by the Brennan Center, the National Institute on Money in State Politics and Justice at Stake detailed the pitfalls of such a system.” Read more

No comments

Campaign Giving Limit On Way Out in Wisconsin

Wisconsin’s limit of $10,000 for the aggregate sum a donor can give to all political candidates in a year appears destined for history as a result of the U.S. Supreme Court’s McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission ruling (see Gavel Grab).

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports that state election officials said in federal court proceedings they could no longer enforce the limit. Mike McCabe of Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, a Justice at Stake partner organization, said the decision is “going to vastly increase the power of a few hundred donors.”

In another state development tied to campaign finance laws,  the California legislature finished its approval of legislation that the Los Angeles Times said “would force nonprofit groups and others to disclose the true source of large contributions to California campaigns.”

No comments

California Has ‘Most-Cut Judiciary’ in Nation, Judge Says

gavel_jarofcoinsCalifornia’s courts, having faced funding cuts totaling $1 billion since 2008, are now desperately underfunded, California Supreme Court Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye told an audience in Marin County.

As a result of the cuts, 51 courthouses have closed. That comes at a time when there are 7.5 million new cases a year, the Marin Independent Journal reported.

“We have the dubious distinction of being the most-cut judiciary in the United States,” the chief justice said.

A budget proposed by Gov. Jerry Brown would furnish an additional $100 million in 2014-15 for trial court operations, but state court officials say that represents but half of the sum taken from the system’s reserves to keep operating.

No comments

Ninth Circuit Court Vacancy Filled After Nine Years

John_Owens_2013The longest vacancy on any federal circuit court was filled Monday after the Senate confirmed Los Angeles attorney John Owens to the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco.

The delay in filling the vacancy had more to do with a fight between two states than the usual partisan bickering that’s held up previous judicial seats. SFGate reports that Appeals court judgeships are informally apportioned among states in each circuit. Senators from both Idaho and California laid claim to the seat.

Read more

No comments

California Courts Facing Civil Rights Crisis?

California Supreme Court Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye gives her State of the Judiciary

California Supreme Court Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye gives her State of the Judiciary

California Supreme Court Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye says the state faces a civil rights crisis because of nearly a half billion dollars in court funding budget cuts since 2008.

“It’s tragic that 50 years after the enactment of the Civil Rights Act, California faces a different type of civil rights crisis,” Cantil-Saauye told the Los Angeles Times. “It is not about the law. It is about access to it.”

According to the Sacramento Bee, delays are faced in numerous cases including urgent family matters, business contracts, wrongful termination and discrimination cases. She assured the legislature that the courts want to be a partner in fair and collaborative solutions.

Read more

No comments

Law Dean Focuses on California Judicial Diversity

kevin_johnson_picture_1In an interview with KQED Public Radio in California, the dean of the U.C. Davis Law School suggested there is improvement in diversity on the state’s courts overall, but a large gap remains between the state’s population of Hispanics and its judges who are Latino.

“We’re talking a situation today where basically 60 percent of K-12 students are Latino, and less than 10 percent of the trial court judges are Latino. When justice appears to be meted out by unrepresentative judges, I think that there’s a concern about the legitimacy of the results and the possible racial injustice of it all,” said Kevin R. Johnson (photo). He is the first Latino head of a University of California law school.

Johnson also noted the absence of a Latino or an African-American justice on the state Supreme Court, and a margin of 2-1 males to females on the Court of Appeals and the trial courts. Johnson said a diverse appeals court can help lead to better judicial decision-making by “bringing together a variety of perspectives, a variety of thoughts, a variety of ways of looking at the world.”

No comments

Weigh Diversity in Naming New Justice, California Governor Urged

jerry-brownAs Gov. Jerry Brown weighs an appointment to fill a state Supreme Court vacancy, a Los Angeles Daily News editorial has urged that he consider increasing diversity on the bench and specifically, naming a Latino justice.

There are no Latinos or African Americans on the high court now, the editorial notes, and “With issues involving Hispanic immigrants, both documented and undocumented, so prominent in California politics and law, the state Supreme Court should have a Latino face.”

The governor must consider candidates’ intellect and judicial philosophy first, but after that he should take diversity into account, the editorial adds. It elaborates that the point is not to establish a “pro-Latino” vote on the bench but rather “to take a step toward having a court that represents a variety of California experiences and viewpoints.”

A San Jose Mercury News article, meanwhile, says Brown has made a strong imprint on the state’s courts by “scouring the legal ranks for candidates with some intellectual firepower who might add diversity to the nation’s largest judiciary.” Since taking office to launch his most recent term in 2011 he has “appointed a larger share of women, Latinos and African-Americans to the state bench than any governor in history, including his own first stint decades ago,” the newspaper says.

No comments

Next Page »