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Archive for the ‘Public Education’ Category

Ohio High Court Justice: There’s a Need for Public Trust in Judges

Two Ohio Supreme Court justices visited the town of Wooster last week to meet with area business and community leaders, and discuss the court’s history and configuration. Justice Robert Cupp and Justice Terrence O’Donnell are both up for re-election this year, and organized the event as a meet-and-greet with incumbent justices, writes the Wooster Daily Record.

Cupp said the high court is in a state of transition with the unexpected death of Chief Justice Thomas Moyer in 2010. Maureen O’Connor is currently serving as the court’s first female chief justice. In his statement, Cupp said the court’s actions affect everyone in the state, “even though some might not see it that way.”

Cupp also stated that when a judge acts in his or her proper role, “we create stability and predictability.” The judicial system should be stable, predictable and consistent, he said.

O’Donnell spoke of his time as a law clerk in 1971, and said the Ohio Supreme Court was held in great respect at the time. However, that reputation and image changed for a time, he said. O’Donnell said this was because court decisions were not being made “in conformity with what the legislation and the law was.”

The article wrote that Chief Justice Moyer, who served on the Justice at Stake board of directors, worked to restore public confidence in the justices and keep the Supreme Court out of the headlines. “We recognize a public trust needs to be part of what we do,” O’Donnell said. “The more we adhere to our oath, the more predictable the law becomes, the better attorneys can advise clients and the better clients can conduct their affairs.”

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JAS Partner Group Offers Judicial Voter Education Website

Too many voters go into the voting booth effectively wearing blindfolds, but when it comes to judicial elections, a Chicago public interest justice center says it is removing those blindfolds.

Chicago Appleseed Fund for Justice is encouraging Cook County, Ill. voters to visit a nonpartisan voter education website called to learn about judicial candidates before voting in the 2012 primary election on Tuesday, March 20.

“It’s extremely important for the voting public to know which judges are–and, perhaps more importantly, which are not–qualified to fill a judicial vacancy,” said Malcolm Rich, executive director of Chicago Appleseed, a JAS partner group.

The voter education website posts evaluations of judges seeking nomination in the primary elections and of judges seeking retention in the general elections.  A dozen bar associations provide the reports, and the website also explains how each bar group rates the nominees.


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GAVELS Program Demystifies How Tennessee Courts Work

To demystify the way courts work, a public education program that enlists practicing and retired lawyers and judges has debuted in Tennessee.

Allan Ramsaur, executive director of the Tennessee Bar Association, told the Nashville Ledger that people who understand the role of the legal system better, will also better understand its limitations.

“We had been hearing, and observing, that folks don’t seem to have a good sense of how the justice system works, and we think that if anyone could explain it, judges and lawyers would be the obvious choice,” Ramseur said.

The Tennessee Judicial Conference and Tennessee Bar created the program, called Gaining Access to Valuable Education about the Legal System, or GAVELS.

GAVELS volunteers address civic organizations and other interested groups. One of the speakers is Robert Murrian, a retired judge.

“When I was a student, I had a civics teacher and a government teacher who really set me on my course professionally,” Murrian said. “If representative democracy is to survive, I think the citizenry has to have some good understanding of where the power lies, and that’s with the people.”




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Sotomayor Dispenses Justice on Sesame Street

In a new video on the Sesame Street YouTube page, Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor hands down some puppet justice. The case: Goldilocks v. Baby Bear. The verdict? Click above to find out.

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Tennessee's Top Judge Tries to Demystify the Courts

At a Rotary event in Cleveland, Tenn., the state’s top judge set about to demystify the way the courts work.  Chief Justice Cornelia Clark’s remarks were reported by The Cleveland Daily Banner. Gavel Grab will share a few of the best ones here, excerpted from the newspaper:

  • “The everyday cases of judges helping people solve disputes are not often publicized.  ’If your judges are doing a good job they really shouldn’t get attention,’ she said. ‘They’re just doing what they are supposed to do. I hope that people understand that those occasional glitches are not what the system is about.’”
  • “Principles govern the judicial system, the chief justice explained. These principles dictate that laws must be understandable and fairly applied. The judicial system is a part of the checks and balances of the United States, and keeps one person from ruling everything, Clark said.”
  • “Being a judge is like being a referee in a football game, Clark said. The referee has to know the rules and understand how they apply, just as judges have to apply laws to specific situations.”
  • “’The Tennessee Supreme Court can’t ever reach out and just take an issue. It only gets to us if it comes through two other levels of our court … it has to start as a lawsuit,’ Clark said.”
  • “’To many people, including some of us that are in it, the court system is often a mystery,’ she said.”

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Iowa Judge Makes Impassioned Plea for Outreach

Iowa District Court Judge Robert Hanson, who wrote the same-sex marriage opinion that eventually led to voters removing three Supreme Court justices last year, said he’s been accepting every invitation he can to talk to groups about the controversial ruling and other issues.

He believes fellow judges need to do a lot more to educate the public about the courts — and hopefully maintain Iowa’s fair and impartial court system.

“I’m disappointed myself that a lot more of us don’t go out and talk to the public, introduce ourselves, explain who we are, make ourselves out to be human beings to those people that are going to stand in judgment of us at retention time,” Judge Hanson said, according to an Iowa Independent article. “That’s what we can do.””

When voters dumped three justices over the unanimous court ruling that permitted same-sex marriage, it was the first such ouster in the nearly 50 year history of Iowa using a merit-based selection process to choose judges.

The retention election process in 2010 showed “what happens when we take the high road,” Judge Hanson said, and “what staying quiet gets you as a judge: it gets you a ticket right off the bench.” Judge Hanson said he wants to “kick the door in” on the controversy that raged over the ruling, and the campaign that followed to remove three justices. Read more

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In Arizona, Appellate Rulings to Go Online

Two new Arizona laws require an online list of rulings made by the state’s appellate judges who are on the retention ballot. Senator Ron Gould sponsored the bills to better inform the general public about the courts, reports Cronkite News.

Peter Dunn, a lobbyist with the Arizona Judges Association and a Justice at Stake board member, approved of the laws. Dunn said the laws provide important information for voters without politicizing the retention of judges. He added:

“Judges believe the more information the voters have the better…[and] while biographical information and ruling citations are already available to the public, having it all in one place is valuable to voters.”

But Arizona State University law professor Paul Bender said the laws are an attack on Arizona’s judicial merit selection system. “By saying, ‘Put up your biography and let us know your constitutional rulings,’ they’re hoping that they can stir up some public opposition to particular judges who they don’t like,” Bender said.

Arizona’s Commission for Judicial Performance Review will provide the online information about judges up for retention elections. Since 1974, Arizona has had merit selection and retention elections for Supreme Court and appellate judges, and for trial court judges in counties with populations greater than 250,000.

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Court Outreach Efforts Underway to Preserve Justice

Amid funding hardships and some anti-court rhetoric, judges around the country are continuing outreach efforts to educate both the general public and legislators about the struggles of keeping courts functioning swiftly and fairly.

One method employed for civic education and outreach efforts is traveling courts and judges. Last week, three of the 17 judges from the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, which normally presides in Washington, D.C., heard cases Willamette University Law School in Oregon, according to the Statesman Journal.

Earlier this week, the Minnesota Supreme Court heard oral arguments and took questions from the students at Brainerd High School, reports Brainerd Dispatch. The Nevada Appeal writes that three Nevada Supreme Court justices took the road this week, hearing arguments at high schools in Lincoln and Nye counties. Yesterday, Ohio Supreme Court Justice Robert Cupp visited Calvert High School to give insight about the courts and to answer students’ questions, according to the Advertiser-Tribune.

Another method of outreach for the courts is holding educational conferences. On Tuesday, California Supreme Court Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye spoke to the Santa Cruz legal community about the judiciary at the county’s Bar Association event, writes the Santa Cruz Sentinel. Cantil-Sakauye said that, despite budget cuts, the judiciary is still strong, and added,

“To make it even stronger, a number of efforts are under way…including the formation of a committee of judges tasked with reviewing and overseeing the case management systems. A major push will be made to get more documents online and to provide more cohesion when it comes to case management systems. Within the state’s 58 trial courts, there are more than 100 different computer systems being used.”

In these outreach efforts, there has been a move toward greater transparency in the courts. A three-year pilot program is under way to allow video recordings of civil cases in 14 courts around the country, including the U.S. District Court in Massachusetts, reports

For more information about the courts, visit the Justice at Stake website.

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Iowa Supreme Court Justices Hit the Road in Outreach Effort

Iowa Supreme Court justices are spending a lot more time on the road these days — with an itinerary that includes oral arguments tonight in Mason City and visits to six high school classes in north central Iowa Friday.

When the justices traveled to Cedar Rapids in May (see Gavel Grab), it marked their first road trip to hear oral arguments in more than a decade. On Nov. 2, the justices will hear oral arguments in Carroll.

The increased outreach to teach the public about Iowa’s courts follows the historic ouster of three justices in retention elections last year. A social conservative backlash and ouster drive fueled in part by outside groups targeted the trio for their role in a unanimous opinion that permitted same-sex marriages.

This year, the increased outreach is described by an Iowa Judicial Branch spokesman as public education, and by a conservative leader of the ouster drive as part of a paid pre-election strategy, according to an article.

“The public debates during the lead up to the retention election revealed some widespread misunderstanding about the role of courts in our system of government,” said Steve Davis, the judicial spokesman. “Holding oral arguments in Iowa communities outside Des Moines gives more Iowans an opportunity to see the work of the court first hand, which we hope will foster better understanding of the courts.”

“Usually, you just don’t see a lot of the judges,” said Bob Vander Plaats of Iowa for Freedom, who led the effort to deny re-election to the three justices. He suggested this year’s outreach efforts are part of a paid strategy.

Justice David Wiggins will be facing voters in a retention election in 2012. He was part of the seven-member court that sparked a fury with its same-sex marriage ruling.

“We’re ready and preparing for next year,” said Connie Ryan Terrell, board chairwoman for Justice Not Politics, a nonpartisan coalition that defends Iowa’s system of merit selection and retention of judges.

Vander Plaats signaled an effort in 2012 to dump Justice Wiggins. “There are a lot of citizens who definitely want to hold all the justices accountable for that (same-sex marriage) opinion. We’re very aware of that,” Vander Plaats said.

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Wednesday Gavel Grab Briefs

In other dispatches about fair and impartial courts:

  • Texas Gov. Rick Perry appointed Justice Ann Crawford McClure as chief justice of the Texas Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals, making her the first woman to occupy that seat, the El Paso Times reported.
  • The Senate voted to confirm Timothy M. Cain and John Andrew Ross to district courts in South Carolina and Missouri respectively, according to a report by The Hill; they are the 99th and 100th of President Obama’s judicial nominees confirmed this year.
  • Assistant Michigan Attorney General Kathleen Markman was removed from her role in a federal lawsuit challenging the state’s emergency manager law, after lawyers challenging the statute asked that her husband, Justice Stephen Markman, recuse himself from hearing a challenge to the law, according to a Detroit News article.
  • As part of a public education effort, the Montana Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Kalispell, according to a Flathead (Mt.) Beacon article. In Florida, the (Jacksonville) Daily Record reported on a project involving efforts by the U.S. District Court to educate teachers about the courts and the U.S. Constitution.

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