Proposed Changes to OK Merit Criticized; Justice at Stake Cited

OklahomaCritics of a bill proposing changes to the way judges are appointed in Oklahoma say it would politicize the process. A Norman Transcript article about the bill cites Justice at Stake.

Among its provisions, the bill would require confirmation of a governor’s judicial appointees by a committee of House and Senate members, making it more like the federal confirmation process, the newspaper says. The bill is awaiting action by the full state Senate (see Gavel Grab for background).

“All you’ve got to do is look at what goes on in Washington right now. Is that what you want? Cause that is totally political. The judiciary has got to be independent,” said former Court of Criminal Appeals Judge Charles Johnson.  (more…)

A Local Chamber of Commerce Renews Backing for Merit Selection

54e7781eaab6d.imageThe Lancaster (Pa.) Chamber of Commerce board of directors has renewed its backing for the merit selection of top judges in Pennsylvania, saying such a system “would promote stability and impartiality in our courts,” and make the commonwealth more attractive to businesses. reported the development. The state legislature is weighing a switch to the merit-based, appointive-and-retention-election system for choosing top judges, and the issue has drawn a higher profile in the wake of recent court scandals (see Gavel Grab). A costly election for the state Supreme Court in 2015 also has given supporters of merit selection more ammunition for their effort.

AR Panel Lays Groundwork to Examine Judicial Selection Reform

The Arkansas House Judiciary Committee, in an information-gathering phase, heard testimony on Friday about judicial selection methods used in varying states. The panel is examining possible reform of judicial elections, and as part of its work, it collected information about nearly two dozen states that use a merit selection system instead.

An Arkansas News article said non-partisan popular election of judges is  “a method some detractors say makes candidates beholden to big-money donors and raises concerns about outside groups spending huge sums to influence elections.” The issue of reform has assumed a higher profile since state Supreme Court elections earlier this year were both contentious and costly (see Gavel Grab).

Response to Scandal Led to Current OK Merit System: Commentary

“Oklahoma literally and figuratively cannot afford having our judges being bought for political favors,” Julie Knutson writes in an Oklahoman op-ed, urging that the state’s current merit selection method for choosing top judges be left in place.

Knutson is president and CEO of The Oklahoma Academy. Regarding recent proposals to change the way top judges are selected (see Gavel Grab), she underscores decades-old history: In the 1960s, “several Oklahoma Supreme Court justices were removed from office due to taking kickbacks and bribes for favorable court rulings and decisions, which in turn caused the federal government to come to Oklahoma to clean up the corruption scandal, which led to a movement in judicial reform.”

One of the more controversial proposals would make revisions to the judicial screening commission process and give more influence to state legislators. Another would impose term limits on state Supreme Court justices.

Merit Selection Would be ‘Big Improvement’: Pennsylvania Editorial

justice-scalesA truly bipartisan judicial vetting commission advising Gov. Tom Wolf would be a good idea for Pennsylvania, and it “might even pave the way for another big improvement — merit selection of all appellate judges,” a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette editorial declares.

The editorial comes in the wake of complaints from state Senate Republicans (see Gavel Grab) about the role of an existing advisory group and accusations that its membership is disproportionately weighted in favor of Democrats. The Republicans ought to take Wolf’s invitation to recommend someone for the panel, the editorial adds.

Pennsylvania’s legislature is considering a proposal to switch from the contested election of top state judges to their selection through a merit-based system. The proposal has attracted a lot of attention (more…)

Arkansas Opinion: End Elections to Choose Appellate Judges

Amid debate over judicial selection reform in Arkansas (see Gavel Grab), a columnist focuses on what he sees as a “crazy” provision intended to protect fair and impartial courts. Better to scrap judicial elections entirely, he says, and replace them with merit selection of appellate judges.

Columnist John Brummett sums it up this way in the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette: Under state ethics rules, a judge “must not know his campaign donors. Then he must disqualify from cases in which those campaign donors are parties.” Brummett opines, “I call it crazy as a betsy bug.”

The issue goes a lot deeper, he continues, because it is fundamentally inappropriate “to [subject] a judge to electoral politics.” Brummett explains, “We’re electing people to do a job they can’t do because of having to get elected. … The solution is simple. It’s to stop electing judges, at least at the appellate level. It is to make judgeship selection a matter of meritorious peer review and gubernatorial nomination and state Senate confirmation.”


Columnist Takes Aim at Critiques of Judicial Section Reform

Arkansas_quarter_reverse_side_2003With varying proposals floated to change the way Arkansas Supreme Court justices are chosen, columnist John Brummett seeks to bring some context in a Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette opinion.

First, he suggests, the Arkansas Trial Lawyers Association wants to preserve the election of justices because trial lawyers prefer competing in the judicial election arena with a force that they know, the Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce. “That’s what state Supreme Court races largely come down to: Money from suing lawyers versus money from defending businesses,” Brummett writes. He contends this system doesn’t result in justice for all, and that merit selection would be a big improvement, although it may not be adopted. (more…)

Four Finalists Recommended for Alaska Supreme Court

The Juneau Empire reports that the Alaska Judicial Council has recommended four finalists for the vacancy on the state Supreme Court. Gov. Bill Walker has 45 days to make a final decision about which of the recommended candidates will replace Dana Fabe, the justice who announced her retirement last year.

“While national headlines have been filled with the controversy surrounding the vacancy on the U.S. Supreme Court, the process of filling Alaska’s vacancy has been downright sedate by comparison,” the newspaper reports.

The article goes on to highlight the stresses for applicants going through the vetting process, noting in particular the negative criticism that can be generated through the Judicial Council’s practice of sending anonymized surveys of the candidates to every member of the Alaska Bar Association. However, Alaska’s merit system is ultimately praised for the calm and lack of political drama that it brings to the appointment process.

“On the federal level, that’s a highly politicized process…In Alaska, happily, we have an entirely different process that was created through the brilliance and the foresight of the delegates to the Alaska Constitutional Convention,” the Empire quotes Alaska Chief Justice Craig Stowers as saying.

Speaking to the newspaper, Julie Willoughby, a Juneau attorney and former member of the Judicial Council, said that Alaska’s system is an “apolitical…comparative merit-based process” and that she believes it “functions as designed and that it’s a fantastically good system.”

Arkansas: Debate Launched Over Ending Supreme Court Elections

2000px-Seal_of_the_Supreme_Court_of_Arkansas.svgThe state Senate Judiciary Committee debated, but arrived at no consensus, on Wednesday regarding proposals to end Arkansas Supreme Court elections and to require disclosure of spending in existing judicial races by outside groups.

“We’ll continue to study. This is just the beginning step in the process,” said Sen. Jeremy Hutchinson, a Republican and the committee chairman, according to the Arkansas News Bureau.

There was advocacy on both sides of each proposal. Gov. Asa Hutchinson, a Republican, said earlier this month (see Gavel Grab) he would likely support an effort next year to move from judicial elections to a merit-based appointive system in the state; he made his remarks after a contentious and expensive state Supreme Court election. (more…)

AK Judicial Council Hears Public Comment on Court Applicants

As part of the Alaska Judicial Council’s vetting of applicants for a state Supreme Court seat, it heard testimony on Tuesday from members of the public. It was to interview candidates today, first privately and later publicly, and then vote on whom it prefers to recommend to the governor.

According to a article, eight applicants for the post were evaluated in an Alaska Bar Association poll. In Tuesday’s open session, views both supportive of and dismissive of the poll rankings were heard from citizens. One citizen urged that a woman be selected to fill the vacancy created by the upcoming departure of Justice Dana Fabe, while another was critical of the manner of a judge who is an applicant.