Judge Criticizes Proposed Merit Overhaul in Oklahoma

Chief Judge Jerry Goodman of the Oklahoma Court of Civil Appeals denounces in a Tulsa World commentary a proposal advancing in the legislature to overhaul the state’s merit selection system for picking appellate judges.

The proposal, recently passed by the state House, would give control of the system to the governor and legislative leaders, according to an analysis by Gavel to Gavel, a publication of the National Center for State Courts (see Gavel Grab).  Goodman writes about it, while alluding to leaders who developed the state’s merit selection model earlier in response to a scandal:

“Obviously, the Legislature becomes an integral part of picking judges and those picked will inevitably reflect the social, cultural and political biases of that body in order to be approved. This is exactly the result those ‘wise men who went before us’ sought to avoid.

“Do we want politicians resolving our contract disputes, determining negligence in a car accident, or deciding child custody in a divorce case, or do we want qualified persons dedicated to the rule of law, who are qualified because they have been vetted and determined to have the competence, character and temperament to apply that rule of law fairly, equally and independently of the litigants’ politics?”


NC: New Candidate Filing Begins After Retention Decision

The Associated Press reports that a new candidate filing period covering congressional seats and a position on the North Carolina Supreme Court began on Wednesday. The second filing period follows rulings last month that have reportedly sent “legislators and election officials scrambling for plan B’s.”

Writing for the Courier-Tribune, Patrick Gannon writes that last month’s “sensible decision” to declare retention elections unconstitutional (see Gavel Grab) has gone under the radar in a busy political season.

The article runs through the political wrangling and accusations that the reform had been motivated by a desire to save Republican Justice Robert Edmunds Jr., that surrounded the introduction of the retention system in 2015, followed by the decision to strike it down last month. He writes:

“Sponsors of the bill said the motivation behind it is to help control increasingly expensive judicial elections. [But] during legislative debate last year, Sen. Josh Stein, a Raleigh Democrat, said the immediate impact of the bill would be to protect a single Republican incumbent, Edmunds.”

“We haven’t heard the last of retention referendums in North Carolina — from legal or legislative standpoints. They’ve been debated for a long time and that will continue,” he concludes.

Opinion: Eye on ‘Dark Money’ in Arkansas Judicial Elections

arkansas_flag_web_fc1aAs Arkansas debates possible reform of its judicial elections, lawyer Scott C. Trotter of Little Rock argues that steps to ensure disclosure of “dark money” political spending ought to be considered.

In Arkansas Business, Trotter writes, “Many voters detest that our judicial elections can be influenced by substantial dark money spending with contributors undisclosed. This directly undermines public confidence in our judiciary. We should advocate state legislation to curb the dark money abuses through spending limits and disclosure of contributors in judicial elections.”

And serious discussion of turning to merit selection, instead of contested elections, ought to also take disclosure into account, he writes, as merit systems often include retention elections. To learn more about debate over Arkansas judicial elections and spending from anonymous donors, called “dark money,” see Gavel Grab.

No Accord Yet on Judicial Selection Plan for IN County

A conference committee in the Indiana legislature was unable to reconcile different House and Senate versions proposing new judicial selection processes for Marion County, Indiana, home of the state capital city.

The Marion County Bar Association, a historically black bar association, has registered its opposition to a proposed variation of merit selection for the county, Indiana Lawyer reported, noting that time was running out for legislators to craft a compromise.  To learn background about the legislative proposals, see Gavel Grab.

When Justice at Stake submitted a statement earlier about an early version of the bill, it proposed changes to ensure a well-designed merit selection system and said that such a system promotes diversity on the bench (for background, visit Gavel Grab).

Proposed HI Judicial Elections Falter; Another Change Debated

Hawaii_state_sealTwo bills to move to the popular election of judges in Hawaii (see Gavel Grab) have died in legislative committee, according to a Honolulu Civil Beat column, while a bill requiring senators to consent to a judge seeking reappointment is getting state Senate debate.

“The move to put the Senate into the mix is widely viewed as a further politicization of the selection process,” columnist Ian Lind wrote. He also said the proposed legislation “was apparently triggered by legislative anger over a recent court ruling in a long-running lawsuit over funding for the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands.” (more…)

End to Circuit Court Elections is Debated in Maryland

maryland_flag1Maryland’s Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee has dealt a setback to legislation to end the elections of Circuit Court judges, but the proposal is still alive.

The Senate Committee gave an unfavorable recommendation to the proposal on a 6-5 vote, according to Gavel to Gavel, a publication of the National Center for State Courts. The House Judiciary Committee may vote on similar proposals this week.

Justice at Stake has supported an end to the Circuit Court elections in Maryland in statements to the legislature, recommending a series of (more…)

Skeptical Views About Judicial Selection Reform Ideas in Oklahoma

Editorials in two major Oklahoma newspapers raise questions about recent proposals in the legislature to revise or scrap the merit-based system now used to select appellate judges.

At The Oklahoman, an editorial is skeptical about a proposal to move to the direct election of top judges. “While critics have qualms about the current judicial nominating system, it hardly seems preferable for judges to be selected based on who is the best politician or raises the most campaign money, rather than who is the best lawyer,” the editorial states. 

A Tulsa World editorial, meanwhile, discusses a compromise reached in the state House that would make revisions to the judicial screening commission process, and give more influence to state legislators (see Gavel Grab). The editorial notes that legislators have been unhappy with some state Supreme Court rulings in recent years. (more…)

Oklahoma House Votes Changes to Judicial Selection

The Oklahoma House has voted to approve a proposal to change the way judges are selected, chiefly through revisions to the judicial screening commission process. The measure does not go so far as to adopt judicial elections, as some have advocated, and as Justice at Stake has opposed (see Gavel Grab).

The Associated Press said the version passed by the House would require the Judicial Nominating Commission to submit to the governor a list of every applicant for appellate court seats, as opposed to the names of merely three applicants, as is the law now. The commission could rate applicants on a scale of zero to 10. A committee of House and Senate members would confirm the nominees.

Further details about the legislation are available from Gavel to Gavel, a publication of the National Center for State Courts; it notes that the plan effectively would “overhaul the state’s merit/commission system used to select appellate judges and turn over control to the governor and state legislative leaders.”

Under the plan, according to Gavel to Gavel, “a majority (8/15) of members of the [new] JNC would serve at the pleasure of the governor and legislative leaders; currently JNC members serve fixed terms.”

PA Editorial: Let Citizens Vote on Merit Selection of Judges

justice-scalesGiven scandal that has shaken the Pennsylvania Supreme Court and a flawed election system to select its members, it’s time for Pennsylvania legislators to approve a switch to a merit-based selection system and let voters decide, a York Daily Record editorial declares.

The editorial came on the heels of support voiced by the current governor and his five living predecessors, a bipartisan group, for a switch to merit selection (see Gavel Grab). The editorial said about the proposed appointive process for top judges:

“It would get the unseemly influence of big money out of the judicial selection process. And that might attract candidates for the bench who are excellent judges but poor politicians who dread the process of soliciting campaign contributions.

“The bottom line: If all of Pennsylvania’s living governors, who would stridently disagree on policy issues, can agree this is a good process, well, then it’s probably a pretty good process. Our lawmakers should approve this bill and put the question to citizens.”

Editorial Criticizes Proposal for Judicial Elections in Hawaii

Hawaii_state_sealProposals to overhaul the existing merit selection system for choosing Hawaii judges get tough criticism in a Honolulu Civil Beat editorial, calling them “a solution without a problem.”

Hawaii legislators are being asked to change the law to allow popular election of judges, who would be subject to the consent of the state Senate for serving subsequent terms (see Gavel Grab). The editorial responds:

“[I]f there is a clamor by voters, attorneys or others with a stake in our judiciary system to move away from a selection process that has served Hawaii well for nearly four decades, it has escaped our attention.”