A ‘Three-Star’ Video Helps Florida Voters in Judicial Races

It’s not very often that someone makes a video explaining how local courts work, and what counts in voting for judges, compared to all those TV spots trumpeting attack ads or “tough-on-crime” themes.

The Daytona Beach News-Journal gets credit this week for bringing to public attention a video in the former category. The newspaper editor’s commentary is headlined, “Judicial races got you bored or confused? Here’s a video.” And it links to the nuts-and-bolts explanatory video prepared by the Volusia County Bar Association and the League of Women Voters of Volusia County.

Editor Pat Rice rates the video as worth watching: “Less than five minutes long, the video provides some good tips voters can use to decide which judicial candidates to support. The cinematography’s not fancy, and the plot’s a little slow, but I’d still give it three stars. Give it a watch, and then take the time to vote in the upcoming judicial and other races.”

Court’s Role is ‘Not to Be Popular,’ Kansas Chief Justice Says

Chief Justice Nuss

When two justices of the Kansas Supreme Court stopped in the Marshall County Courthouse during a recent visit to northern Kansas, their topics included general openness of court proceedings to the public and the impartial role of the court, according to The Marysville Advocate. 

“We always try to make sure that people understand what our role in state government is,” Chief Justice Lawton Nuss said. “And it’s not to be popular, not to do what people want us to do. We both took an oath when we became justices to support the Constitution of the state of Kansas and the United States, and that is where our allegiance lies.”

The justices’ visit was made at a time of “increasing tensions between Kansas’ judicial branch and the executive and legislative branches,” the newspaper added. “Rightwing Republicans controlling the Legislature are unhappy with court orders to boost school funding and have threatened judicial funding in recent years. Those legislators (more…)

JAS Gives ‘Follow the Money’ Tips for Judicial Elections

As you know, Justice at Stake tracks spending in judicial elections around the country. We’re currently tracking spending in the Wisconsin Supreme Court primary and in Arkansas, and we broke the news about the highest spending race in state supreme court history last fall. Semi-annually, we also release the New Politics of Judicial Elections report, which looks at all spending in the past political cycle. As the amount of money pumped into judicial elections at all levels has increased, it’s more important than ever to keep an eye on the money trail.

In order to help fair courts activists all over the nation become better equipped to follow the money, Justice at Stake has penned a how-to guide. Written by Communications Director Laurie Kinney, “Knowledge is Power. Here’s How to ‘Follow the Money’ in Judicial Elections” [PDF] is a step-by-step tutorial that shows local advocates exactly how to figure out where all the financing for judicial candidates’ campaigns is coming from.

Check out this valuable resource and pass it on to others who are attempting to navigate the world of judicial campaign finance.

Also, remember that state legislative sessions are up and running. Stay updated on everything that is happening by checking out our Gavel Grab blog and following us on Twitter and Facebook.

Poll: 10% of College Grads Think ‘Judge Judy’ is on Supreme Court

judge_judy_320wAccording to CNN, a poll conducted by the American Council of Trustees and Alumni reveals that nearly 10 percent of college graduates surveyed believe that Judith Sheindlin, aka “Judge Judy,” serves on the Supreme Court.

Judith Sheindlin is an American lawyer who rose to prominence on the court show “Judge Judy,” which features her handling small disputes. She has never served as a member of the U.S. Supreme Court.

The poll, released this month, is said to show an alarming level of ignorance of America’s history and heritage. The respondents’ lack of knowledge of the country’s judicial system also applied to their answers on the constitution and federal government.

Florida Launches Plan for Better Public Understanding of Courts

At a time judges in Florida are facing a proposal in the legislature for judicial term limits, it’s “fortuitous” timing that the state’s highest court has approved a five-year plan for enhancing public understanding of how the courts work, a columnist writes.

In The Tallahassee Democrat, Bill Cotterell says the plan is titled “Delivering the Message,” and it incorporates “suggestions from judges, reporters and editors, court public information officers and other staff across the state.”

Cotterell says the goal of “enhancing public trust and confidence” in the courts can be challenging when this particular branch of government, in order to do its job, sometimes must dissatisfy the customer. “Governors and legislators can do things they know are unconstitutional, but politically popular. Judges often have to do just the opposite, upholding the rule of law when we’d really like to just whack somebody,” he explains. (more…)

Colorado Judiciary Turns to Twitter

Colorado’s judiciary is turning to social media — specifically, Twitter accounts — to help educate the public.

The state’s Judicial Branch has announced that the state Supreme Court, the Court of Appeals, and the Office of the State Court Administrator will use Twitter to communicate breaking news, insights about the work of the courts, and ongoing community education initiatives.

“Social media platforms such as Twitter have proven to be powerful and useful communication tools with deep reach to broad audiences,” Colorado Chief Justice Nancy Rice said.  “I believe that Twitter will enhance our outreach and communication efforts as we pursue our mission to educate Coloradans about the roles, responsibilities and actions of our Courts.”

New Code Encourages MA Judges to Engage With the Public

A new code of conduct for Massachusetts judges, adopted by the state Supreme Judicial Court, encourages jurists to engage with the public and offers specific guidelines and limits.

“We don’t want our judges to be forced to isolate themselves so much from the real world that they lose touch with the rest of society,” Lisa Goodheart, an attorney who sat on the committee that drafted the code, told The Boston Globe.  “It’s hard for the public to have confidence in the judiciary and faith in the rule of law unless they have an understanding of it.”

Under the code, judges would not be permitted to address a fund-raiser, but they are permitted to speak at such events as bar association luncheons.

We Are ‘Helping Other Iowans Solve Disputes,” IA Chief Justice Says

cady1-300x224Chief Justice Mark Cady of the Iowa Supreme Court sat down for an interview with the Newton Daily News, in advance of the court’s hearing arguments at the local high school. The court has held sessions around the state to inform the public about the judiciary and its workings, Cady said:

“We are Iowans helping other Iowans solve disputes. A lot of questions are addressed are, how is it that you relate to us? Coming out into the communities and having our court hearings in their communities help explain how we function in everyone’s lives.”

Cady will stand for retention (up-or-down) election next year. He was the author of a court opinion in 2009  that found it unconstitutional to deny civil marriage to same-sex couples. The following year, three Iowa justices were removed by voters in a retention election. Cady was (more…)

Opinion: ‘Crusade’ by Judges Needed to Rebuild Waning Trust

At a time of all-time low public trust in our courts, it’s imperative that judges from the Supreme Court in Washington to courthouses across America work to build trust, contends a past president of the American Judges Association.

“The ability of courts to be a strong voice in our democracy is dependent upon the trust the people have in the ability of judges to make fair decisions,” explains Hennepin County (Minnesota) District Judge Kevin Burke in a Minneapolis Star Tribune commentary.

Burke writes that “Part of the essence of an effective judiciary is respect for differing opinions on critical issues,” and he suggests it didn’t help when Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia used derisive language about the court when it found a right to marry for same-sex couples. He also says there is danger in the expenditure during the upcoming elections of billions of dollars for images that paint “impending apocalypse that will erode trust in government even more dramatically.” (more…)

N.C. Journalist Worries About Eroding Trust in Fair Courts

Appointed to a new commission aiming to improve North Carolina’s judicial system, a journalist says he hopes that its work will help build public trust in the independence and impartiality of our courts.

Doug Clark of the Greensboro News & Record says in a column that he’s especially concerned about trust in the state courts and in helping educate the public to better understand how they work:

“In recent court races, we’ve seen outside groups with partisan interests spend millions of dollars to promote or attack judicial candidates. Our legislature ended public funding for appellate campaigns, which had been successfully adopted after the 1996 report and relieved candidates of having to raise so much money. Now lawmakers aim to return partisan labels to the ballot for some judicial races. These aren’t steps that instill public trust in the impartiality of our justice system.

“I’m also concerned about a lack of transparency and access to information in the justice system, as well as the public’s lack of understanding about the work of judges and the courts.”