Gavel Grab

RI Merit Selection is ‘Undermined,’ Common Cause Says

Rhode Island’s merit selection process to insulate judicial selection from politics has been undermined, according to the watchdog group Common Cause Rhode Island.

John Marion, the group’s executive director, said there is a deadline of 21 days for governors to select judges from candidates listed by the Judicial Nominating Commission, but governors have “ignored” it, according to a Providence Journal article. He said legislators annually enact legislation that permits the governor to take nominees from outdated candidate lists.

On Friday, Gov. Lincoln Chafee (photo) nominated former state Senate president Joseph Montalbano for a Superior Court judgeship. Montalbano was recommended by the Judicial Nominating Commission for a judgeship in August 2010, according to a different Providence Journal article. Read more

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In Rhode Island, Questions About Judging Pension Cuts

In a nationally watched case involving government austerity steps and public employee pension cuts, a Rhode Island judge is in the spotlight over questions about her own interest.

A New York Times article sums up issues facing Judge Sarah Taft-Carter of the state Superior Court this way:

“Can a judge rule impartially on pension cuts when her mother, her son, her uncle and even she herself all have a stake in preserving the status quo?”

It’s a case that will likely get a good deal more attention. High-profile attorney David Boies is representing Rhode Island against litigation by several public employee unions over pension cuts. States and cities hard-hit by fiscal strains are watching the case. Boies is seeking “a less conflicted judge,” according to the article. Read more

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Anti-Gay Marriage Group Loses Two Political Disclosure Rulings

In a single day, the First U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals handed two separate defeats to the National Organization for Marriage on its challenges to state campaign finance disclosure laws.

The appeals court upheld a Maine statute requiring disclosure of independent expenditures in candidate elections, according to an Associated Press article.

In a Rhode Island case, the appeals court affirmed a trial judge’s ruling that denied a preliminary injunction to NOM when it challenged the constitutionality of a state law requiring disclosure of independent expenditures.

Indiana-based lawyer James Bopp Jr. helped represent NOM in both cases. He is known for frequent challenges to campaign finance regulation.

In the Maine case, the appeals court panel issued an opinion saying the provisions challenged by NOM “neither erect a barrier to political speech nor limit its quantity. Rather, they promote the dissemination of information about those who deliver and finance political speech, thereby encouraging efficient operation of the marketplace of ideas.”

The court went on to quote from the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2010 ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission: “As the Supreme Court recently observed, such compulsory ‘transparency enables the electorate to make informed decisions and give proper weight to different speakers and messages.’” Read more

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RI Extends Revision to Merit Selection

Rhode Island has extended for another year a significant change made by the legislature to the state’s merit selection system for picking judges.

The action was one of several reported in recent days by Gavel to Gavel The Blog, a publication of the National Center for State Courts, a JAS partner. The blog also mentioned possible motivations behind an expected lawsuit by a number of New Jersey judges against Gov. Chris Christie.

In Rhode Island, the legislature passed, and the governor signed, a measure extending to June 2012 a policy involving candidates recommended to a governor by a judicial screening commission. Under the policy, a name publicly submitted to the governor for a vacant judgeship can be considered eligible for appointment by the governor for five years.

Typically in merit selection systems, the blog explains, a candidate recommended by a nominating commission is eligible to fill only a particular vacancy at a specific point in time. Read more

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4/9/08: The JAS News

State Supreme Court sides with insurance companies – The New Orleans Picayune-Times
Levees breaking do not fall under insurance claims according to the Louisiana high court.
Read more…

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JAS Daily News Monitor 12/14/07

Attorney confirms suspended federal judge being investigated – The Associated Press
U.S. District Judge Samuel Kent is being investigated by the U.S. Department of Justice after he was suspended for allegedly sexually harassing a female employee.

Despite ruling, woman asks court for same-sex divorce – The Providence Journal
Less than a week after the Rhode Island Supreme Court said a same-sex couple could not get divorced in Family Court, one of the Providence women involved in the groundbreaking case filed for divorce yesterday in Superior Court, the main state trial court.

Calif. marriage ruling could come amid 2008 campaign – The Washington Blade
The California Supreme Court could decide on same-sex marriage during the 2008 Presidential race, which could draw even more attention to the controversial case and the justices’ decision.

Ketchum formally starts Supreme Court bid – The West Virginia Record
Democrat Menis Ketchum formally announces his bid for a seat on the West Virginia Supreme Court, stating he will be “a people’s judge” and that he “cannot be bought.” Incumbent Democrat Spike Maynard has will be running for reelection and incumbent Democrat Larry Starcher had not announced his intentions.

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

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