Archive for June, 2010

Jun 29 2010

"Feel Like They're Getting a Fair Shake in Court"

Lynn Marks, PMC’s executive director, joined the moderator of Pennsylvania Newsmakers, Terry Madonna, on Sunday to discuss Merit Selection and the need for judicial selection reform in Pa.

Marks outlined some of the problems inherent in judicial elections:

Just think of yourself in court and then you start wondering, ‘Gee I wonder if Terry made a large contribution to one of those judges. And then I think, ‘I wonder if Terry’s lawyer made contribution, and then I think, ‘Gee I hope my lawyer made a huge contribution.’ I shouldn’t even be thinking that when I’m in a court of justice.

Merit Selection takes judges out of the fundrais

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ing business.  Judicial campaigns would not have to raise money from lawyers, law firms and organizations that later could appear before them in court.

Currently, this overlap between contributors to judicial campaigns and frequent participants in court is a major cause of concern for the public.  It creates the perception that judges are beholden to special interests, which undermines the integrity of the courts.

Under Merit Selection, this fundraising cycle would be broken, and people would not have to question whether a judge might be influenced by a campaign contributor or supporter.  As Marks explained,

“That’s all we’re asking for, is for. . . [litigants] to feel like they’re getting a fair shake in court.”

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Jun 25 2010

PMC on Newsmakers to Discuss Merit Selection

Published by under Judges,Merit Selection

PMC’s Lynn Marks appears on this week’s Newsmakers with Terry Madonna to discuss Merit Selection of appellate court judges. The show follows PMC’s recent release of a public opinion poll demonstrating widespread support for Merit Selection and an overwhelming desire to have the issue put to a public referendum.

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Here is a list of channels airing the show:

  • WGAL Channel 8 (Harrisburg and Lancaster) Sunday, June 27th at 11:00 AM and 1:35 AM (Saturday late-night)
  • WBPH (Lehigh Valley and Philadelphia) – Monday, June 28th at 8:30 PM
  • WKBS 47 (Altoona) – Saturday, July 3rd at 11:30 AM
  • WPCB 40 (Pittsburgh) – Saturday, July 3rd at 11:30 AM
  • CATV Channel 8 -Tuesday, June 29th at 7:00 PM and Wednesday, June 30th at 1:00 PM
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    Jun 25 2010

    Something's Rotten in the State of Ohio

    This is a big judicial election year for Ohio, and trouble is brewing already. Like Pennsylvania, Ohio limits the political and fundraising activities of judicial candidates.  But the Columbus Dispatch reports that the candidates for  Chief Justice are trading allegations of unethical campaign conduct.

    The Republican Party alleges that Chief Justice Eric Brown improperly solicited campaign contributions.  The Democratic Party alleges that Brown’s challenger Justice Maureen O’Connor, improperly endorsed another judicial candi

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    date.  The Democratic Party also alleges that another sitting Justice, Justice Judith Ann Lanzinger, a Republican up for re-election, also violated the rule against endorsing other candidates.

    Aren’t we getting tired of these stories?  These allegations, coupled with expensive elections funded by lawyers, law firms and organizations that frequently litigate in the state courts, makes one wonder why states continue to elect judges.  It seems that money problems and political entanglements are the  inevitable partners of judicial elections.

    We need a system that gets judges out of the fundraising business and limits partisan political activity.  Merit Selection is such a system.

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    Jun 23 2010

    "Exactly what are we waiting for?"

    Published by under Merit Selection

    “Exactly what are we waiting for?” the Reading Eagle asks of a switch from elections of appellate judges to merit selection in Pennsylvania.

    The recent opinion piece champions the many reasons why merit selection makes sense:

    Last year’s appellate court elections provided all the evidence anyone should need to realize that merit selection would be a far better way to pick jurists for the three highest courts in Pennsylvania.

    The newspaper, which has been an advocate of merit selection for years, points out the uniqueness of having support from both sides of the aisle, including the last four governors of Pennsylvania – three Republicans and a Democrat:

    There seems to be few proposals these days to gain true bipartisan support, so when one is put forth, i

    t deserves serious consideration.

    The piece also points out the soaring costs of judicial elections, calling the $4.7 million spent by the two candidates in the last Supreme Court race “a ridiculous amount of money for candidates who are prevented by judicial canons from actually conducting a campaign in any true sense of the word.”

    The Superior Court and Commonwealth Court elections are also costly, and, despite the million raised, “gave voters little on which to base their selection other than part, home county and perhaps a campaign slogan or two.”

    The article also quotes some figures from a recent Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts poll that 93 percent of people favored putting the issue of merit selection on a statewide ballot.

    We couldn’t have said it better ourselves:

    “Exactly what are we waiting for?”

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    Jun 21 2010

    Minnesota PAC looks to elect conservative Christians to state Supreme Court

    Published by under Merit Selection

    Two Minnesota Republicans have formed a new political action committee called “Justice in Minnesota” aimed at getting a slate of conservative Christians elected to the state bench, Gavel Grab reported.

    The PAC’s mission is “to elect Constitutionally Conservative Judges who will interpret the law and remember the separation of powers in every court decision by applying only the law and the evidence to decisions from the bench.”

    One of the judicial candidates, Tim Tingelstad, calls for the Minnesota courts to return to the principles of the Christian Bible:

    As God’s Word has been removed from our public lives, the resulting darkness has led to our present social disorder and political divisions. The correction of these problems will only begin when the Light of Truth is returned to our land’s highest hills, the Supreme Courts. Until our highest courts return to an acknowledgment of the existence of God and His Truth, the people will contin

    ue to walk in the confusion of darkness.

    Another candidate supported by Justice in Minnesota, Dan Griffith, echoes similar sentiments on his campaign website:

    I believe in God. I think every judge should. I believe that God is real and that ultimately we will be accountable to him when we die and that should affect how we treat others on earth. That may be why John Jay, our First Chief Justice of the US Supreme Court said ‘We should elect of all people Christians.’

    Judges should be elected based on their qualifications and impartiality, not on their political beliefs, be they conservative or liberal. Campaigns such as this divert attention from what should be the focus of judges – justice – and instead create the appearance that candidates are pandering to ideologies and constituency groups.

    Read the full article in The Minnesota Independent here.

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    Jun 16 2010

    Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: Pennsylvanians have right to vote on merit

    Published by under Merit Selection

    An editorial in today’s Pittsburgh Post-Gazette calls for State Rep. Thomas R. Caltagirone, the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, to allow a vote on a bill that would move Pennsylvania one step closer to choosing appellate judges on merit rather than through elections.

    The editorial poses a straightforward question with a seemingly simple answer:

    What possible harm could there be to letting lawmakers vote for something that must be endorsed or rejected by the public?

    Answering their own question, the paper continues:

    To the long list of what is wrong with the General Assembly, Pennsylvanians can add this: The power of committee chairmen turned into sultans by seniority deciding whether bills before them live or die.

    As one of only six states that elect judges at all level of state judiciary, the bill would create a 14-member paneled comprised of members from the public and others selected by the governor and the General Asse

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    The poll, conducted for PMC, PMCAction, Justice at Stake, Committee for Economic Development and the American Judicature Society, also reveals that 62 percent of Pennsylvanians favor merit selection for appellate judges and that 76 percent believe that campaign contributions influence judicial decision-making.

    “It’s clear the public wants – and we demand – a better way of selecting our appellate court judges,” said Representative Matt Smith, who introduced legislation calling for a referendum on the issue. “It goes across party boundaries and regions in the state.”

    There is good reason for the wide bipartisan support – in the last race for the Supreme Court in Pennsylvania, the two candidates spent $4.7 million.

    In addition, many of the major campaign donators later appear before the judges in court.

    Former governor Tom Ridge, who joined the event via phone, stressed the importance of judges who are able to focus on the law, not campaign fundraising and the often-volatile public opinion:

    Judges have to be free from any real or perceived influence of the political process and be an independent arbiter to ensure that the Constitution and federal law and state law and regulations are applied properly. We can’t wait

    Our press release about the  poll and the press conference is available here. The Pennsylvania Cable Network will be replaying the press conference several times — a schedule is available here.

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    Jun 08 2010

    Press conference to bring support from three branches, both sides of the aisle

    In today’s political climate one may be hard-pressed to name many issues that truly unite both sides of the aisle. Merit selection is one of these rare birds. PMC has long been part of a coalition of diverse business, legal, community, civic, and religious groups, as well as individuals, that support changing the way Pennsylvanians select their state appellate bench from judicial elections to merit selection. Now, a new poll conducted for PMC shows that support is even broader across the state and does not hew to traditional party lines.

    Need further persuasion? Take a look at the guest lineup for tomorrow’s press conference—a bipartisan coterie of players from all the branches of government:

    The Governors: Governor Ed Rendell (D), a long-time proponent of merit, will be speaking, as well as former Governor Mark Schweiker (R). Former Governors Tom Ridge (R) and Dick Thornburgh (R) will be available via conference call.

    The Legislators: Senator Jane Earll (R-Erie) and Representative Matt Smith (D-Allegheny), sponsors of the merit bills in their respective houses will be in attendance to promote the proposal.

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