Gavel Grab

Archive for December, 2008

Happy Holidays From Justice at Stake

Justice at Stake is closing its doors for the holidays, and Gavel Grab will have only limited coverage until Jan. 5.

Have a wonderful holiday season.

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Latest 'Eyes on Justice' Is Out

The latest “Eyes on Justice,” Justice at Stake’s regular newsletter on issues affecting fair and impartial courts, has been released.

To see the newest edition, which includes stories on stymied pay raises for federal judges, as well as court issues in Illinois, Mississippi and Florida, and a wire service article on judicial elections, click here.

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Suspension Urged in Judicial Ethics Case

 A lawyer who recently was elected to Manhattan Surrogate’s Court should not be allowed to take office until allegations of campaign finance violations are resolved, a New York state ethics commission has recommended.

The commission has taken no position on Anderson’s guilt or innocence.

According to a posting by the Institute for Judicial Studies in New York:

According to a New York Times article, Nora S. Anderson was indicted Dec. 10 for allegedly “accepting $250,000 in campaign contributions from her boss and concealing where the money came from. Under state law, individual donors are not allowed to give any campaign more than $33,122.50.”

In a letter to New York’s highest court, which will decide whether Anderson should be suspended, the State Commission on Judicial Conduct wrote that “public confidence in the integrity of the judiciary, the courts and the administration of justice would be undermined” if Anderson presides over cases while facing criminal charges.

The commission has taken no position on Anderson’s guilt or innocence.

According to a September blog posting by the Institute for Judicial Studies in New York, the three candidates reported raising a total of $1.4 million:

Attorney Nora Anderson won Tuesday’s fiercely fought Manhattan Read more

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Florida Judge Faces Reprimand Over Written Opinion

Judge Michael E. Allen of the 1st District Court of Appeals will be reprimanded for his violation of three canons of the judicial code, the St. Petersburg Times reports.  Allen is being punished for writing an opinion that accused a fellow judge of having poor ethics.  This marks the first time the Florida Supreme Court has punished a judge for something written in an opinion.

The controversy arose from Allen’s 2006 opinion in which he criticized Judge Charles J. Kahn Jr. for trying to overturn the bribery conviction of former  Senate President W.D. Childers of Pensacola, despite having personal and professional associations with the defendant.  According to the Times:

Kahn once practiced law with Pensacola lawyer Fred Levin, a longtime friend of Childers who helped the former senator and then-Gov. Lawton Chiles craft the law that allowed the state to sue tobacco companies.

In a 2006 opinion, Allen said Kahn’s attempt to overturn Childers’ bribery conviction might be misconstrued by Floridians familiar with newspaper stories describing the relationship between Kahn, Levin and Chiles.

The high court was especially critical of Allen for using newspaper accounts, though the court then went on to take note of newspaper stories written about Allen’s opinion, saying they did not promote public confidence in the judiciary.

As the Supreme Court prepares to hear arguments in Caperton v. Massey, issues of recusal are at the forefront of judicial news coverage. To learn more about recusal, see this 2008 report by the Brennan Center for Justice, or these postings in Gavel Grab.

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Contribution Limits Rise in Ohio

Ohio has had some of the nation’s most expensive Supreme Court elections, and the potential price tag of seeking court seats just went up.

Beginning in 2009, campaign contributions limits for Ohio judicial candidates will increase by about 15%, the Columbus Dispatch reports. The increase follows the “quiet million-plus” elections that took place in November, in which both Supreme Court incumbents, Justices Maureen O’Connor and Evelyn Stratton, easily won their races  while raising nearly a million dollars each.

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On One Kentucky Bench, a Return to 'Lily-White?'

An interesting article by Jason Riley of the Courier-Journal describes how Jefferson County, Kentucky, is losing its only two African American judges, and how local groups are trying to keep the county from reverting to an all-white bench.

According to the article, only two of Jefferson County’s 40 judges are black, and both are retiring. District Judges Janice Martin (left), who became Kentucky’s first African American female judge in 1992, and  Toni Stringer are stepping down at the end of this month.

The importance of a diverse judiciary has created challenges for all types of judicial selection systems. Judges are elected in Kentucky, although like many election states, judges often are first appointed to the bench when seats are vacated midterm.

At the same time, appointment systems have had an uneven record in this area. Recently, judicial nominating commissions in Florida and New York were criticized for failing to include enough women and ethic minorities in slates of nominees they presented to the governor.

 Louisville NAACP president Raoul Cunningham noted that the last three African Read more

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links for 2008-12-24

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Letter Shows Tensions in Florida Diversity Fight

A letter from a coalition of lawyers to Florida’s Supreme Court Judicial Selection Committee was published Monday in the Orlando Sentinel.  In it, the group of lawyers chastises the committee for the lack of diversity in an original list of nominees to replace retiring Justice Charles T. Wells.  The letter also urges the commission to act speedily in offering the governor a new list of nominees.

“This process ran afoul of Florida law, and of equal import, has significantly – if not irreparably – tainted the integrity of the nominating process, and correlatively, the court itself,” the letter says.  “As you no doubt know, the JNCs were engrafted into our Constitution to reduce the role of politics in the judicial selection process. ”

The letter illustrates the growing tensions between the governor’s office and the committee.  Internal splintering has also occurred, with constant 5-4 decisions coming from the panel.  Natural lines have been drawn between those members appointed by current Governor Charlie Crist and those members appointed by former governor Jeb Bush.

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Spending Limits Sought in Alabama

An Alabama legislator is seeking to curtail spending in state judicial elections, according to a Tuscaloosa News report.

Alabama has a tradition of massive amounts being spent on judicial elections. This year,  about $4 million was spent by Supreme Court candidate Deborah Bell Paseur and eventual winner  Greg Shaw.

The bill, introduced by State Rep. Chris England (D-Tuscaloosa), would limit contributions from individuals and political action committees to $500 per candidate. When England introduced a similar bill in the last legislative session, he said, “The perception is that money buys justice.”

Alabama Bar President J. Mark White endorsed the bill’s intent, saying, “I think what you’re seeing is a growing reaction to the ridiculous amount of money spent on races in this state, and growing reaction to the negative campaigns.”

White also has filed a complaint about phone calls made by an out-of-state group that wrongly claimed the state bar had given Paseur a failing grade. According to the Montgomery Advertiser, Attorney General Troy King has decided to further investigate White’s charges.

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Article Cites 'Bare-Knuckle' Court Races

The 2008 state Supreme Court elections continued a trend of runaway spending in which secret money by third-party groups fueled ”bareknuckle races” in numerous states, according to an article by, an online news service.

The article, which cited Justice at Stake and the Brennan Center for Justice, said:

“Critics, ranging from grassroots organizations to former Supreme Court justice Sandra Day O’Connor, say judicial races in states with head-to-head elections have become so polarizing — and so suffused with campaign contributions from wealthy outside interest groups — that they blur the line between politics and the law. The races, they say, undermine public faith in the courts by raising questions about whether candidates are beholden to the interests that helped finance their campaigns.

“Few states have contribution limits for third-party groups in judicial races. High court elections in several states, including Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, Oregon and Washington state, have shattered spending records in recent years — usually with the help of outside money.”

But the article notes that there is disagreement over how best to reform judicial elections, reporting that commission appointment systems have recently been criticized by governors in New York and Florida for not presenting sufficiently diverse slates of judicial candidates. 

 To see Justice at Stake’s summary of the 2008 election campaign, click here. To see the Brennan Center’s summary of TV advertising, click here.

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