Gavel Grab

Editorial: Cole County Voters Rejected ‘Climate of Fear’

When voters in Cole County, Mo. reelected an incumbent circuit court judge this month, many of them recognized a “dark money campaign was neither fair nor factual” on behalf of the challenger, a Jefferson City News Tribune editorial said.

Jefferson City is Missouri’s capital, and it is located in Cole County. The editorial was commenting on the race between challenger Brian Stumpe, supported with six-figure spending by the Republican State Leadership Committee (RSLC), and incumbent Judge Pat Joyce. The RSLC is a national group based in Washington, D.C.

“We commend Cole County voters for rejecting a climate of fear and for vanquishing it with their votes. They have sent a message that walkers bringing dark money are not welcome here,” the editorial said. The editorial relied on Wikipedia for a Read more

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Changes to Existing Judicial Selection Systems Ahead?

In several states that have recently held judicial elections or that will hold them next year, there is talk of changing the way judges are selected:

  • After controversy in Kansas over a state Supreme Court ruling that set aside death penalties for two brothers, state legislators may be ready to give the governor more control over appointments of high court justices, reported. Two justices who voted to vacate the death penalties faced an ouster drive but won retention on Election Day.
  • Some people are talking about the possibility of Cole County, Missouri switching from judicial elections for lower court judges to a merit-selection system after a national political organization pumped a six-figure sum into this month’s election, the Jefferson City News Tribune reported.
  • “Voters will have chance to remake Pa. high court” next year, the Associated Press reported. “Misconduct in PA’s highest court leads to calls for reform,” stated a headline for, sponsored by Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts, a JAS partner organization.
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Despite Outside Funding for Foe, Judge Wins Cole County Race

MO_20203Despite a large injection of funding from a national political organization for her opponent, Cole County, Missouri Circuit Court Judge Pat Joyce defeated challenger Brian Stumpe on Tuesday.

The contest drew national media attention when the Republican State Leadership Committee supported prosecutor Stumpe. It backed him with nearly $300,000 in funding, including direct donation to the campaign and also for advertising critical of Judge Joyce.

The lower-court election took on outsized importance as the court’s jurisdiction includes challenges to the constitutionality of state laws and the language of ballot measures. Judge Joyce is a Democrat. Stumpe is a Republican. Read more

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Weigh Merit Selection of Local Judges in Cole County: Editorial

Cash-gavel-soldAs a $200,000 injection of outside money from a national group (see Gavel Grab) changes the focus of a Cole County, Missouri election for Circuit Court, a St. Louis Post editorial calls for changing the way judges are chosen there.

Cole County voters would do well to follow the model of Greene County voters, who decided in 2008 to halt electing local judges and instead adopt the merit-based selection system that is used to choose local judges in St. Louis and Kansas City, and all state appellate judges, the editorial says.

“The administration of justice is too important to have questions about whether one donor, or a group of donors, can buy their own judicial outcomes by using their cash to tilt an election,” the editorial asserts. Read more

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JAS: Voters Concerned About Outside Cash in Lower-Court Race

Darvocet-Stack-of-Cash-GavelNearly three out of four voters in Cole County, Missouri are concerned about outside special interest money pouring into a local race for Circuit Court judge, Justice at Stake announced on Thursday.

And more than two out of three voters in Cole County are concerned that politically charged judicial elections will pressure judges to make decisions based on public opinion, rather than the facts and the law, JAS said in disclosing the results of a poll it commissioned of 579 voters.

According to recent news reports, the Republican State Leadership Committee has injected $200,000 into the race. Cole County Circuit Court is influential throughout the state, having jurisdiction over lawsuits challenging the constitutionality of state statutes or the wording of ballot measures. Cole County is the seat of the state capitol.

“Not surprisingly, Cole County voters grow very suspicious when out of state money is injected into judicial elections,” said Bert Brandenburg, executive director of Justice at Stake in a statement. Read more

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Six-Figure Sum to Oust Local Judge: Who's the Real Source?

Money in handWhen six-figure sums suddenly flow from Washington, D.C. into a once-obscure lower-court judicial race, journalists and others typically begin hunting for the source.

That’s exactly what a Talking Points Memo blog post undertakes regarding $200,000 pumped into a Cole County, Missouri Circuit Court contest by the Republican State Leadership Committee, a national partisan organization (see Gavel Grab) backing a Republican candidate seeking to defeat a Democratic incumbent. The TPM post also quotes Justice at Stake about the unusual race. Read more

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Controversy Over D.C. Group Targeting Local Missouri Judge

The Republican State Leadership Committee’s channeling $200,000 into Missouri in support of a judicial candidate in Cole County (see Gavel Grab) is stoking controversy.

RSLC_logo_NO_INITIALS“I pretty clearly think it’s an attempt to intimidate the judges in the county courthouse,” said Chuck Hatfield, an area lawyer and a Democrat, told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “The message that’s coming through is, if you’ve ruled the way you think you ought to rule and it is contrary to some interest groups, they’re going to take you out.”

Cole County Circuit Court has “outsized influence” because it is home for Jefferson City, the state capital, the article notes. The court has jurisdiction over lawsuits challenging the constitutional of state statutes or the wording of ballot measures. The RSLC’s funds have gone  to support Republican Brian Stumpe, a prosecutor who is challenging incumbent Judge Pat Joyce, a Democrat. Read more

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Editorial: Court Revamp Ideas in Ferguson Could Help

1410295904000-CITY OF FERGUSONSome City Council proposals for revamping the “troubled” court system in Ferguson, Mo. are among valuable ideas in the wake of rioting after an unarmed black teen was shot by a white police officer, a New York Times editorial said.

The editorial, “A Step Toward Fairness in Ferguson,” said the city has had an exceptionally high rate of arrest warrants issued for motorists who are unable to pay fines and miss dates in court. Black motorists “are often targeted for petty offenses that generate fines” in St. Louis County, the editorial said, and the issuance of arrest warrants “makes them vulnerable to losing job opportunities and housing.” The editorial made the following recommendation: Read more

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In Missouri Locality, a Judicial Election Based on … Merit?

justice-scalesHigh praise for a contested judicial election where the candidates shun negative attacks and instead emphasize their qualifications?

It’s rare, but Gavel Grab has located such a contest for a local judgeship in Boone County, Missouri, where former Missouri Bar president Skip Walther writes that “each candidate’s judicial campaign speaks to their potential quality as a judge, and based solely on that metric, each of the candidates is qualified.”

Walther wrote a piece for the Columbia Tribune that extols the conduct of the local judicial race while pointing out that in his view, it’s pretty exceptional:

“Make no mistake: Our local judicial campaigns are not ordinary. With almost $30 million in TV spending on judicial campaigns in 2012 alone, negative advertising is becoming commonplace. Fortunately, Missouri appellate judges and large metropolitan trial judges are appointed rather than elected, so we are spared the nastiness on a statewide level that is so prevalent in states such as Illinois, Michigan, Ohio, Alabama and West Virginia.” Read more

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Federal Gun Law Nullification Effort Dies in Missouri Legislature

In the waning moments of Missouri’s legislative session, minority Democrats filibustered a bill to nullify some federal gun laws, and the measure died.

Majority Republicans were split earlier about how aggressively the legislation should punish officials who enforced certain federal gun laws that were judged to have infringed on Missourians’ Second Amendment rights, the Associated Press reported. The House put its final approval on a compromise and sent it to the Senate with only 30 minutes in the session remaining.

Each chamber had passed earlier a version that would have allowed lawsuits against officials who enforce gun laws that are found to infringe upon Missourians’ Second Amendment rights. Justice at Stake said, “Surely state legislators have better things to do than pursue fruitless efforts to punish judges for enforcing the law of the land” (see Gavel Grab).


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