Gavel Grab

Major Changes for JAS Partner American Judicature Society

The American Judicature Society has announced that it will be undergoing several significant changes in the coming month.

According to the ABA Journal, the organization will be moving from Des Moines, Iowa to Vanderbilt University in Tennessee. In a press release about the upcoming move, Judge Martha Hill Jamison, President-elect of AJS explained the reasoning behind the organization’s choice of Vanderbilt as its new headquarters: “Vanderbilt Law School faculty produce excellent scholarship in the areas of judicial decision-making and judicial administration that will complement the society’s work on judicial selection and independence, judicial ethics and the American jury system.”

Officials from Vanderbilt University expressed their support of the new association with AJS as well. “For Vanderbilt Law School, this represents a unique opportunity to strengthen ties to the bench and bar, conduct academic programming in areas of mutual interest, create new educational and professional opportunities for students, [and] facilitate faculty research,” said Chris Guthrie, dean of Vanderbilt Law School.  Read more

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AJS, Justice at Stake Praise Kansas Judicial Evaluations

The American Judicature Society and Justice at Stake Campaign have released a joint statement this morning praising the state of Kansas for creating a performance evaluation plan that holds judges accountable. Seth Andersen, Executive Vice President of AJS, stated that in the past it was difficult for voters to select judges because of the lack of information on their performance. Andersen added, “These evaluations are an essential window into how each judge is actually performing.”

Justice at Stake Executive Director Bert Brandenburg said, “Well-done evaluations can help the public hold judges accountable for their job performance—and help judges do a better job on the bench.”

To read the news release, click here.

 In addition, an editorial in the Lawrence World-Journal praised the new evaluations.

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Uncertainty Over Missouri Court Nominations

The Missouri media and online community are cautiously assessing the announcement Thursday of three potential nominees to the Supreme Court, to replace retiring Justice Stephen Limbaugh.

Question Number One: Will the slate spark a repeat of last year’s angry standoff, when Gov. Matt Blunt bitterly complained that a panel of three candidates submitted to him was not conservative enough for his liking?

Galvanized, critics led a full-scale assault on Missouri merit selection system. In the end, the legislature narrowly voted last spring to preserve the “Missouri Plan,” the nation’s oldest system for using commissions to nominate judicial candidates.

In the hours after the slate of Supreme Court candidates were announced, there was an air of caution and confusion.

Better Courts for Missouri, which led the campaign to end merit selection, said at least two of the three candidates, Appellate Judges Lisa White Hardwick and Ron Holliger, were not to their liking. They did not comment on the third candidate, Atchison County Associate Circuit Judge Zel Fischer.

Read more…

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Give Me the Money or Else…

Campaign donations are meant to be just that…a donation. However, for friends of Reginald K Davis, a judicial candidate in Wyandotte County, Kansas, a donation may be seen as a way of protecting their livelihood.

After complaints had been filed with the Kansas Commission on Judicial Qualifications, Davis admitted to having sent this text message to lawyers in the area, “If you are truly my friend then you would cut a check to the campaign! I you do not then its time I checked you. Either you are with me or against me!”

The message, as discussed in the Kansas City Star’s “PrimeBuzz” blog, is the subject of a recent report issued by the American Judicature Society‘s Center for Judicial Ethics.

Davis also admits to having solicited contributions during a public event, but he said his earlier text-mail words were not meant to be intimidating. He also said that his opponent,  Daniel Cahill, is the person responsible for the negative connotation to his words.

Even during an era when special interests are spending more on court elections, judicial Canons continue to prohibit judges from personally soliciting campaign funds. 

The American Bar Association has also been instrumental in creating a Model Code of Judicial Conduct that sets guidelines for judges and candidates to follow in the hopes of avoiding these dilemmas in future judicial elections.

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Setting the Record Straight

In the debate over the legislative proposals to change Missouri’s process for selecting its judges, both the yeas and the nays have cited the American Judicature Society’s model judicial selection plan in support of their positions. AJS had a leading role in developing the first commission-based appointment plans, and it has supported the adoption of such plans throughout its existence. In response to the misinformation being circulated by some in Missouri, AJS has issued a statement clarifying the essential features of its model plan.

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One-Stop Shopping for Judicial Campaign Financing Info

Now you can get information about contribution limits for judicial candidates, reports on campaign financing in key states, and figures from the most recent election cycle (courtesy of the National Institute on Money in State Politics) all in one place. And just in time for the holidays!

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Questions for the Presidential Candidates

The American Judicature Society has published an editorial containing questions for presidential candidates on important issues affecting the administration of justice. The editorial appears in the November-December 2007 issue of Judicature, the journal of AJS, and is available online. The questions seek candidates’ views in five areas: access to justice, federalism, judicial selection, sentencing policy, and the independence of the Department of Justice. By issuing this editorial early in the primary season, AJS hopes to elicit responses from candidates and discussion among members of the media and the public about issues that impact all Americans but have received too little attention thus far during the presidential campaign.

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JAS Daily News Monitor 12/12/07

Poll: Mo. voters back nonpartisan court plan – The St. Louis Business Journal
A new poll shows that a majority of Missouri voters support the judicial selection process.

Surveillance Court Declines to Release Secret Opinions – The New York Times
After reviewing a request by the ACLU, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court decides not to release information on the NSA’s wiretapping program.

A FISA fix – LA Times Opinion by U.S. Attorney General Michael Mukasey
Attorney General Michael Mukasey asks Congress to update FISA and give the Administration more leeway to intercept foreign communications.

Gay marriage case gets most “friend-of-court” briefs in memory – The Associated Press
The California Supreme Court has received a record number of amici briefs, before oral arguments are even scheduled.

Given the Latitude to Show Leniency, Judges May Not – The New York Times
Some experts speculate that even though judges were given more discretion in sentencing decisions yesterday by the Supreme Court, they may not exercise their new power very often.

Click here for more news on fair and impartial courts issues from the Brennan Center for Justice E-lerts.

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Selecting Supreme Court Justices in Kansas

In recent sessions of the Kansas legislature, proposals have been introduced to alter the selection process for members of the state’s supreme court. In 2006, a proposed constitutional amendment requiring senate confirmation of gubernatorial appointments fell only five votes short of the two-thirds approval required.

The Federalist Society for Law and Public Policy Studies commissioned Professor Stephen Ware of the University of Kansas Law School to prepare a white paper on supreme court selection in Kansas.

A November 30 article in the Kansas City Star summarized the report.

Professor Ware is correct in identifying Kansas as the only state with a commission-based appointive system for selecting supreme court judges (also known as merit selection or the Missouri Plan) in which the bar chooses a majority of the members of the nominating commission. However, there are several other states in which members of the bar comprise a majority of the commission, whether they are elected by bar membership or selected by the governor or other elected officials.
Read more…

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