Gavel Grab

Top N.C. Judge Warns of Perception That ‘Our Courts are for Sale’

Chief Justice Parker

Chief Justice Parker

Chief Justice Sarah Parker of the North Carolina Supreme Court, who will retire Saturday, recently spotlighted her concerns about the impact on impartial courts of high-spending and increasingly politicized judicial elections.

“(I)f people perceive that our courts are for sale, they will lose confidence in the ability of courts to be fair and impartial,” she told the North Carolina Bar Association in Wilmington, according to the (Charlotte) Observer. “…We must have judges committed to the rule of law … without regard to politics, special interests or personal agenda.”

The newspaper’s article profiling Justice Parker said she supported the state’s public financing program for judicial elections, which the General Assembly eliminated last year. Her remarks this summer came on the heels Read more

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Florida Bar Seeks High Court Decision on Election Rule

Canons of judicial conduct from two states that limit what judges can do in an election contest are under challenge, according to recent news reports.

The Florida Bar has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to review a rule barring candidates for a judgeship from personally soliciting campaign contributions, according to a National Law Journal article (available through Google). It is headlined, “Florida Bar Asks Justices to Rule on Judicial Campaigns.”

The article notes that the request to the Supreme Court comes as “judicial elections heat up around the country with record fundraising efforts,” and it cites Justice at Stake as the source of data that more than $263 million was raised in state supreme court elections dating from 2000 through the 2011-12 election cycle. Read more

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California Disclosure Bill Debated in Legislature’s Last Days

California’s Assembly is weighing a Senate-passed bill to require that political ads aired on TV for ballot measures disclose their three greatest original funders. A spate of editorials is calling attention to the proposal shortly before the legislature finishes its business for the year.

A San Jose Mercury News editorial was headlined, “Truth in campaign advertising should be the law,” and it said the bill’s powerful opponents include the Service Employees International Union and the California Teachers Association. The Los Angeles Daily News editorialized, “California campaign cash disclosure bill needs final push.” A San Francisco Chronicle editorial said, “Do-or-die time for campaign funding disclosure bill.”

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U.S. High Court Divided Between ‘Red and Blue’ Justices?

To what extent does partisan politics pervade the U.S. Supreme Court? This familiar topic got plenty of debate at the close of the court’s most recent term, and it’s still coming, this time with a law scholar’s contention that “America now has red and blue justices on its highest court.”

Professor Garrett Epps of the University of Baltimore School of Law has an Atlantic essay entitled, “The Extreme Partisanship of John Roberts’s Supreme Court.” He dissects rulings of the 2013 term and concludes,  ”On the Roberts Court, for the first time, the party identity of the justices seems to be the single most important determinant of their votes.”

You can read about other analyses by clicking here for Gavel Grab and clicking here. 

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Rear Admiral (Ret.) Barnett Joins Justice at Stake’s Board of Directors

Jaime Barnett joins JAS Board

Jamie Barnett joins JAS Board

Rear Admiral (Ret.) Jamie Barnett of Venable LLP, who has more than 30 years experience in the U.S. Navy and Navy Reserve, has joined the Justice at Stake Board of Directors, JAS announced Thursday.

Barnett is Co-Chair of Venable’s Telecommunications Group and a partner in the firm’s Cybersecurity Practice. For nearly 20 years, he has worked as an attorney in private practice.

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Editorial: In Choosing MN Judges, Reform Would Be a Better Idea

Minnesota_quarter,_reverse_side,_2005Political party endorsement of judicial candidates serve “very little” good and are vastly outweighed by the harm they do “to public confidence in the impartiality of state judges,” a Minneapolis Star Tribune editorial declared.

The editorial discussed recent events that have caused an awkward position for the state GOP. The party endorsed a candidate for the state Supreme Court, Michelle MacDonald, and it subsequently was made public that she was facing charges on suspicion of drunken driving and resisting arrest.

The editorial spoke favorably of a proposal to reform the way Minnesota judges are selected, advocated by a group called the Coalition for Impartial Justice (for background, see Gavel Grab). The editorial explained: Read more

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Wednesday Gavel Grab Briefs

In these other dispatches about fair and impartial courts:

  • U.S. District Judge Mark Fuller of Alabama, recently arrested on domestic violence charges, “has compromised his integrity” and should resign, an editorial stated.
  • A panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled in favor of environmental groups defending Blair Mountain Battlefield in West Virginia, site of a huge 1921 armed labor conflict, from large-scale surface mining, Reuters reported.
  • Attorney Peter Bennett of Portland, Me. was appointed Special Advisor to the newly created American Bar Association (ABA) Read more
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Scholar: ‘Bad Cops’ Get Legal Shield from Supreme Court

Although a police officer’s fatal shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo. has not arrived at the court system, a legal scholar suggests that recent U.S. Supreme Court rulings could make it hard to hold the policeman or his employer accountable if a civil rights violation is alleged.

“How the Supreme Court Protects Bad Cops” is the headline for a New York Times op-ed by Erwin Chemerinsky, dean of the law school at the University of California, at Irvine. Chemerinsky writes:

“In recent years, the court has made it very difficult, and often impossible, to hold police officers and the governments that employ them accountable for civil rights violations. This undermines the ability to deter illegal police behavior and leaves victims without compensation. When the police kill or injure innocent people, the victims rarely have recourse.”

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In Arkansas, a Call to Weigh Shift to Merit Selection

justice-scalesIs a new debate ahead in Arkansas over the best way to select impartial judges?

The issue has been percolating lately (see Gavel Grab), and now Roy Ockert, editor emeritus of The Jonesboro Sun, has written a op-ed urging consideration of a shift from nonpartisan elections to the “Missouri Plan” of merit selection.

In Arkansas, Ockert writes, “we the people are still electing our judges, but the process is becoming corrupted.” He says the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision opened the door for special interest groups to raise large sums and then target and sometimes smear judicial candidates, who are limited by ethics restrictions in their ability to respond. Read more

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PAC Spends More Than $300,000 in Two Local Judicial Races

Sales-Tax-money-gavelThe political action committee of an auto insurer spent more than $300,000 in support of the re-election of two local judges in the Miami area, and one of the judges was re-elected while the second was defeated, the Miami Herald reported.

Circuit Judge Rod Smith defeated challenger Christian Carrazana, a personal injury attorney. Judge Nuria Saenz was defeated by personal injury lawyer Victoria Ferrer. A rival, less-funded political action committee also was set up by personal injury lawyers to support the challengers.

It was reported earlier that spending by United Auto Insurance’s political committee appeared to be unprecedented for its scope in a local judicial election (see Gavel Grab). Read more

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