Reform Aimed to Inform More Ohio Voters About Judicial Races

Reforms led by Ohio Supreme Court Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor are aimed at raising the profile of judicial elections and helping voters be more informed about them, a Columbus Dispatch editorial says.

Part of the effort to get more voters to participate in judicial elections will be a website, Judicial Votes Count, to be launched soon. It will have biographical information about candidates, their responses to a standard questionnaire and lists of candidates’ endorsements.

While Justice O’Connor has spoken of interest by some in the legal community in a switch to merit selection of judges, she believes that is unlikely to be adopted given public opinion polling in the state, according to the editorial.

On Politics and On Courts, Texas Judge Finds Twitter Useful

Willett3The Texas Tweeter Laureate is … a judge. Yes, you read that correctly. And in an intriguing Washington Times op-ed, Texas Supreme Court Justice Don Willett shows flashes of the humor and succinctness that are part of his social media effort to demystify our courts:

  • “People know far more about American Idol judges than judges.”
  • “I’m probably the most avid social-media judge in America—which is like being the tallest Munchkin in Oz. It’s a bar so low it’s subterranean. But apparently I’m part of the Twitterati (think Illuminati, but with gavels).”
  • “People are genuinely amazed that a nerdy judge can be engaging, and believe me, my geekery is on an uber-elite level. But it’s rare for a Supreme Court Justice to step out from behind the bench and demystify things.”
  • “If you’re a Texas Supreme Court Justice hopscotching across 254 counties, trying to tattoo your name onto the noggins of millions of voters, you must find creative ways to raise visibility and build awareness. Twitter, Facebook, etc. are low-cost but high-yield ways to leverage the support of key influencers and opinion leaders. Bottom line: It’s political malpractice not to engage people smartly via social media.”

Construction Starts Soon on Wyoming Judicial Learning Center

IMG_1148Construction of an interactive judicial learning center, where visitors will be able to learn about the workings of the state’s court system, will begin next month in the Wyoming Supreme Court building in Cheyenne.

According to the Center’s website, planned exhibits include the following: Judicial Milestones; Hear From a Judge;  Wyoming (courts) Map; iCivics Learning Stations; and Rule of Law Theatre. ICivics is a civics education program co-founded by retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, Justice at Stake’s first Honorary Chair.

A Casper Star-Tribune article said the legislature appropriated $280,000 for the project with an understanding matching funds would come from other sources. The facility was inspired by the Colorado Judicial Learning Center.

New Judicial Evaluation Data Available for Utah Voters

UtahUtah voters will be able to get more information about sitting judges to help them decide how to cast their ballots in upcoming retention (yes-or-no) elections, as a result of an effort by the state Judicial Performance Evaluation Commission.

The Standard-Examiner reported, “[V]oters can now go to and learn whether the judges on the ballot have been recommended by an independent state commission, how the judges performed compared to their peers, how attorneys, court staff and jurors rated judges on a survey, and how citizens evaluated each judge’s courtroom.” The information also is available in a printed pamphlet for voters who call to request it. (more…)

Partner Group Works to Inform Voters About Judge's Role

national-association-of-women-judgesThe National Association of Women Judges, a Justice at Stake partner organization, is working to inform voters in Florida about the role of a judge in the state court system. The group’s efforts were the topic of a recent WLRN report. 

“It’s not about the individual judges and whether they continue in their career. It’s about what kind of courts do we as citizens in this democracy want,” said Anna Blackburne-Rigsby, a U.S. Court of Appeals judge in Washington, D.C.

“The public should be informed about the reasons we have a third, separate branch of government. A branch that is to be above politics and above special interests,” says Florida Supreme Court Justice Barbara J. Pariente,  co-chair of the Florida Informed Voters Project.

On Election Day, Florida voters will decide whether to retain 22 District Court of Appeal judges.

Window Opened for Finding Pay Data on CA Court Employees

At a website disclosing pay for California public employees, a new “judicial” category has data on 22,310 judicial and court employees, the Sacramento Business Journal reports.

“The courts have long held that taxpayers are entitled to know how much their elected officials and public employees are compensated,” state Controller John Chiang said. The public can see how tax dollars are spent when pay and benefit data for all court employees are included, he said. The controller’s website is

And the Emmy Goes to a Civics Education Effort, Featuring O'Connor

The National Association of Women Judges (NAWJ) has been awarded with an Emmy for its film “Fair and Free” featuring Justice at Stake Honorary Chair, former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor.  As a part of a groundbreaking civics education campaign the film addresses “a dangerous gap in civic literacy in our nation.”

Digital Journal announced in a press release that the Emmy was presented by the National Capital Chesapeake Bay Chapter of the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences.  It was the only award given in the Public Service Announcement category.  Anna Blackburne-Rigsby, a judge on the District of Columbia Court of Appeals in Washington, DC and NAWJ President made a statement on the importance of the campaign.

“Each day in American courts, thousands of judges preside over cases ranging from traffic offenses to tax and land disputes, child abuse and murder. The judicial system reflects the fabric of life in this country. And unlike legislators, a judge must stand apart from political and partisan ideas, and ensure each litigant’s case receives a fair and impartial hearing, with a resolution based on the law. That is the foundation of the public’s trust and confidence in the courts.”

The National Association of Women Judges is a Justice at Stake partner organization.  For more news on public education efforts, see other posts from Gavel Grab here.

New Pilot Project Offers Judicial Education to Tennesseans

Retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor helped kick off a campaign today meant to educate voters in Tennessee about the judicial process.

The new project sponsored by the National Association of Women Judges and the League of Women Voters hopes to educate Tennessee voters about the judicial system, the importance of fair and impartial judicial elections and how to evaluate judicial candidates, according to The

“This effort will provide invaluable information to our citizens who will go to the polls later this year to vote for local and state judges. We want every citizen to know just how critical it is to our justice system that we as voters elect fair and impartial judges,” Cindy Wyrick, president of the Tennessee Bar Association and honorary state co-chair of the project, told the paper.


Court Offers a Civics Lesson to Remember in New Hampshire

An annual “On the Road” event brought the New Hampshire State Supreme Court and a unique lesson on the judicial branch to Concord High School.  The five justices started their day listening to oral arguments in two actual cases and questioning attorneys, then took questions from the student audience.

Students took the opportunity to ask the justice’s about their paths to the bench and the particulars of how judges make decisions.  The two female justices took a question on whether or not they had ever felt impeded by sexism during their careers.  Justice Carol Conboy noted that earlier in her career, she felt people assumed that male lawyers were competent until proven incompetent whereas female lawyers had to prove competency.

While the justices said they could not answer questions about the specific cases, attorneys for both sides fielded questions from the audience.

The Concord Monitor covered the event and interviewed several students about the experience.  A senior from Bow High School commented that it was a less formal atmosphere than she had expected and an overall positive learning experience.  She is quoted saying “I thought it was cool to relate to it…”

Justice at Stake also recognizes the importance of civics education and opportunities to promote awareness of the judicial branch.  JAS has created a program titled Our Courts America with the new website, to help people understand the role of the courts and the importance of supporting them.  Resources will be provided to help judges, lawyers, and community leaders have access to the tools needed for organizing civic education programs.

Judge Takes Role in 'Mockingbird,' With Eye on Educating Youth

When the curtain rises on “To Kill a Mockingbird” staged by the Virginia Repertory Theatre this week, the cast will include a federal appeals court judge hoping to help educate young people about our justice system.

Judge Roger L. Gregory of the Fourth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals will be playing the role of Reverend Sykes in the adaptation of Harper Lee’s 1960 novel, according to a Richmond Times-Dispatch article.

The play’s run will include talk-back sessions directed at middle and high school students. Judge Gregory explained, “If we want to continue our democracy and constitutional government, we have to have young people — and not-so-young people — believing in our system of justice. And this play is a wonderful venue to start that discussion.”

Judge Gregory is a theater enthusiast and has performed the role of Reverend Sykes before.  Because the play deals with a justice system that is imperfect, it is all the more resonant, he said.

“It leaves you inspired, because there’s a gap to be filled,” he said. “And that’s always the biggest inspiration: not that everything is nirvana, but that there’s still space to be closed. You know, it’s sort of like the crack in the Liberty Bell.”