State Supreme Court Justice Joan Orie Melvin’s preliminary hearing before District Judge James Hanley in Pittsburgh Municipal Court started yesterday. A preliminary hearing is an initial hearing to determine whether there is enough evidence to proceed to trial.
Justice Orie Melvin’s case highlights a main problem with judicial elections. She is charged with using her government staff and resources for political purposes during her campaigns for the Supreme Court.
According to an article in the Pittsburgh Tribune Review, three former staffers testified that “they were expected to perform campaign work” during Melvin’s 2003 campaign for state Supreme Court , three former staffers testified that “they were expected to perform campaign work” during Melvin’s 2003 campaign for state Supreme Court Electronic Cigarette. Campaign electronic cigarette comparison work included distributing literature at polling places, filling out questionnaires for interest groups and newspapers, and fielding election phone calls. One testified to being asked to forge expense vouchers in order to pay poll workers.
The three witnesses were Lisa Sasinowski, Melvin’s chief
law clerk, Molly Creenan, Melvin’s staff attorney, and Kathy Squires, Melvin’s secretary. Sharon Cochran, an employee of former Sen. Jane Orie, also testified yesterday. Justice Joan Orie Melvin’s preliminary hearing continues today.
For more information, see the articles in the Pittsburgh Tribune Review and the Pittsburgh Post Gazette.
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In 1995 the Texas legislature passed the Judicial Campaign Fairness Act. It was enacted
due to too many scandals and too much money in Texas Supreme Court elections. The Act “imposes mandatory caps on contributions and voluntary limits on expenditures in judicial races.” The voluntary provision is thought to be effective because of peer pressure, and because if one candidate does not comply, the other need not comply.
According to an article in the Texas Tribune the act is being put to the test by a Republican runoff election for a district court seat in Marshall, Texas. Brad Morin is running against incumbent Judge William Hughey. Brad Morin “told the Texas Ethics Commission he would reject the voluntary limits when he shenae grimes pokies named pokies voyeur gallery his treasurer for the race in August 2011.” This has caused both candidates to file lawsuits, ethics complaints and counterclaims against each other.
If more candidates follow in Brad Morrin’s footsteps and choose noncompliance of the voluntary limits, Tom “Smitty” Smith, the Texas director of the political watchdog group Public Citizen stated it could be “disastrous to the independence of our judiciary.” Morrin’s actions have not only drawn attention from a political watchdog organization, but also from state senator Rodney Ellis. Ellis wrote,
I am very concerned that we will see a flood of money that further erodes Texans belief in a fair and equitable justice system, . . . We’re moving back towards a Wild Wild West election system and that is not a good thing.”
, Judicial Campaign Fairness Act
Former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor continues to promote the virtues of merit selection. O’Connor has been a long-time supporter of this cause. Appearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Justice O’Connor advocated
for Cialis Online merit Cialis selection in the states. “The result of judicial elections ‘has been the need for candidates to raise money for their election campaigns and I think that has a corrupting influence on the selection of judges.’”
this summer’s The American Scholar is calling on judges throughout the country to “lead the effort to reclaim justice from politics – and from the money that defiles it.” The article takes an in depth look at the money pouring into judicial elections and the negative effect that campaign contributions have on the public’s perception of the courts.
Judicial elections were instituted as a way to maintain judicial independence during a time when executive and legislative governments were besieged by corruption, but the institution has strayed far from the original objective. Big money campaign contributions have wiped out any semblance of impartiality and have made judges beholden to donors.
A study by the Brennan Center for Justice reported that lawyers, lobbyists, and business interests donated nearly 40 percent of the funding for state high court elections during the 2009-2010 election cycle. “Independence, the foundation of impartiality, fairness, and trust in courts, has increasingly been replaced by dependence on big contributions. The purpose of these donations in many cases is to ensure that courts are controlled by judges who favor the interests of donors and to thwart democracy.”
When it comes to the influence of money on elections, criticism abounds from everyone from Stephen Colbert to Sandra Day O’Connor. “The transformation of judicial elections in the previous decade from modestly funded, almost exclusively local affairs to expensive national contests has led former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor to make reform of judicial selection her crusade in retirement.”
The devastating consequence of cut-throat campaign tactics and overzealous fundraising is a ravaged perception of the judiciary where the public believes that justice is for sale. “The spectacle of would-be judges hurling sound bites at each other raises the question why citizens should respect that rule [of law] when the people who end up shaping it from the bench demonstrate such injudicious traits to get there—and, worse, after they’ve arrived.”
A great political struggle currently abounds to bring about change and put merit selection in place. “The same money engulfing the electoral process is very likely to defeat any proposed amendments to state constitutions in favor of merit selection.” Judges who believe in the rule of law need to be on the front lines of this struggle working to remove the influence of money from the judiciary. “Until that happens, the rule of law will continue to be ravaged by partisan election cycles that degrade the judiciary’s fairness, impartiality, and i