Archive for August, 2012

Aug 28 2012

The Merits of Diversity

Published by under Merit Selection

The notion of equality is a pillar of American justice. But when it comes to equality on the bench, the American judiciary is sorely lacking. According to an article in The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, women and minorities are not as well represented on the bench as they should be.

Judicial elections may be one cause of the disparity. Partisan election of judges puts a premium on fundraising and political connections. Qualifications and diversity are not emphasized. Of the 31 judges serving on Pennsylvania’s

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three appellate level courts, there is only one judge of color, and she sits on the Superior Court. Further, only a single African American has ever been elected to the state Supreme Court.

The League of Women Voters is one of the many organizations that supports Merit Selection in Pennsylvania as a proposed solution to the problem. Elizabeth McNamara, national director of the League hgh vitamins of HGH Women Voters said “allowing applicants to submit their credentials to a merit panel would make the judiciary attractive and accessible to diverse range of candidates.”

Lynn Marks — executive director of Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts,

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a nonpartisan court reform organization, and co-chairwoman of the Pennsylvania Interbranch Commission for Gender, Racial and Ethnic Fairness – commented on the importance of diversity on the bench. “Judges learn from one another. There’s a richer discussion of cases where you have a wide spectrum of life experience.”

Research by the American Judicature Society shows that racial minorities and women have greater success reaching appellate benches through Merit Selection. No candidate is excluded from the process due to lack of financial resources or political connections. Merit Selection puts the focus back on what’s really important: an applicant’s skills, qualifications, experiences, contributions to the community and reputation for fair and ethical behavior.

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Aug 21 2012

It Doesn’t Make Sense

Published by under Judicial Elections

The Orie Melvin case continues to highlight the problems that result from electing judges.  The entire case is a product of judicial elections:  the Supreme Court justice is accused of illegal use of government resources for her campaigns for the Supreme Court.  And now, as the Pittsburgh Tribune Review reports, in the midst of the Court of Judicial Discipline’s consideration of whether Justice Orie Melvin should continue to draw a pay check during her suspension, there is a question about the conflicts created for judges during judicial election campaigns.  Justice Orie Melvin is charging that Judge Charles A. Clement, Jr. of the Court of Judicial Discipline should recuse from deciding her case because during her 2009

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election campaign, he joined in a letter criticizing one of her campaign ads. Clement stated at the recent hearing that he believes he can be fair and impartial.

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The question we really should be asking is why we persist in choosing our judges in such a way that creates multiple opportunities for conflicts of interest and appearances (and sometimes actual) biases.  It doesn’t make sense and it’s time to find a better way.

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Aug 20 2012

"Money-Soaked" Judicial Elections Undermine System

Published by under Merit Selection

An editorial in the New York Times argues that “money-soaked” judicial elections undermine the credibility of state courts. Specifically, “[e]lections turn judges into politicians, and the need to raise money to finance ever more expensive campaigns makes the judiciary more vulnerable to improper influence by donors.”

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The editorial cites findings from a Center for American Progress report regarding six states, including Pennsylvania, where spending in judicial campaigns is especially heavy. The report found significant evidence that where there are large amounts of spending in judicial campaigns, the appearance of impartiality is diminished. According to the editorial, people understand that, “[w]hile individual judges may not sell their votes outright, political donors have an interest in electing judges who support their point of view.”

The influence of special interests has skyrocketed in

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recent Online Blackjack years, especially after the Citizen’s United decision by the US Supreme Court. The editorial notes that many special interests are heavily involved in judicial elections and  “exert their influence through independent expenditures, reducing race after race into a contest of slogans.”

According to the editorial, Merit Selection is the solution to many of the issues presented by judicial elections. Under the Merit Selection system, judges would no longer have to be politicians or fundraisers; they would be able to focus the entirety of their energies on their role as fair and impartial arbiters of justice.

“State courts decide 95 percent of the country’s legal cases. They are damaged by money-soaked elections. The evidence mounts that top state judges should be picked and appointed through merit selection, not elected.”


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Aug 20 2012

Judicial Elections Affect Sentencing Decisions

Published by under Merit Selection

According to report published in the forthcoming issue of the Review of Economics and Statistics, judges in Washington state are more likely to impose harsher sentences for serious crimes the closer they get to re-election.   The study examined data

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on 265 full time Superior Court* judges and focused primarily on “the kinds of offenses that get press attention and voters likely pay attention to”.

Taking into account factors such as whether the cases were resolved via plea bargain and the defendant’s criminal history, the authors determined that there was a 10% increase in sentence length from the beginning of the judges’ term to the election. In contrast, judges who planned to retire at the end of their terms did not punish more harshly.

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The Pokies gabrielle anwar pokies report argues that in light of the fact that more than 80% of the public believe that courts are “not harsh enough” on criminals, “imposing harsh sentences would appear to be a quite logical, cost-free way to improve popularity”. The authors of the report “cannot say whether social welfare would increase or decrease if judges were appointed … but … can quite definitively say that sentencing patterns would differ, and that the variation in sentencing solely due to political pressure would be diminished.”

Merit Selection would lessen many of the political pressures faced by elected judges, while still maintaining the public’s ability to have meaningful input into the judiciary.

*In Washington state, the Superior Court is the court of general jurisdiction.


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Aug 14 2012

Merit Selection is Straightforward Solution

Published by under Merit Selection

The Center for American Progress released a report entitled, “Big Business Taking over State Supreme Courts”. The 142-page reportoutlines the effect of increased campaign donations on judicial elections, focusing specifically on eight states, including Pennsylvania. According to the report, spending in judicial elections has exploded over the last twenty years. In 1990, candidates for state supreme court seats raised approximately $3 million. By 2000, that amount had ballooned to

more than $45 million.

This influx of  money has undermined confidence in the judicial system. According to a 2011 poll, 90% of Americans believe that judges should recuse themselves from cases involving campaign contributors. However, judges  are generally not required to do so, and many judges do not voluntarily recuse in such situations either.  This all leads to weakened confidence in the judicial system. When it comes to the courts, the appearance of impropriety is just as damaging as actual impropriety.

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An article in the New Yorker argues that Merit Selection provides “straightforward solution” to the corrupting influence of corporate campaign contributions.  Although the article does not advocate for any specific plan, the author states that “Any of these [methods] are preferable to the grotesque spectacles that pass for judicial elections.”  We agree.

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Aug 10 2012

What’s In a Name?

Published by under News

Wednesday’s primary election in Washington state is further evidence that where voters have little or no information about one or both of the candidates running for office, they may rely on other factors — such as the way a candidate’s name sounds or what they assume the name implies about a candidate’s race, ethnicity, or background — to make decisions.  Those other factors typically have no relevance to a candidate’s qualifications for the bench.

As the Associated Press reports, little-known Seattle area lawyer, Bruce Danielson collected over 40% of the vote in the primary despite the fact that he did not raise money, did not campaign, had no endorsements and attended no candidate forums. In contrast, his opponent, Washington Supreme Court Justice Steve Gonzales, who was ultimately victorious in , little-known Seattle area lawyer, Bruce Danielson collected over 40% of the vote in the primary despite the fact that he did not raise money, did not campaign, had no endorsements and attended no candidate forums. In contrast, his opponent, Washington Supreme Court Justice Steve Gonzales, who was ultimately victorious in Buy Levitra cheap cialis online the Levitra primary, engaged in a traditional campaign.

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Mr. Danielson’s performance has raised eyebrows among election watchers. University of Washington professor Matt Barreto has hypothesized that one reason for Mr. Danielson’s success was his name. “When voters find themselves with very limited information, that’s when names and race absolutely factor in,” Barreto said. “They’ll try to infer positions about the candidates by their names, and they’ll misapply stereotypes to the candidates.”

Judicial elections are broken. Judges should be selected based on qualifications, not their last name or ballot position. Merit Selection provides the public with meaningful opportunities for input while ensuring that the judges who ultimately take the bench are qualified.

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Aug 07 2012

Meaningful Voter Participation Lacking in Judicial Elections

Published by under Opinion

An article in the Miami Herald underlines one of the problems with judicial elections: the lack of meaningful voter participation. In the last Florida election, less than 15% of the electorate voted in the judicial election. Further, of the approximately 215,000 people who voted in Miami-Dade County, roughly 40,000 of them failed to vote for the judges on the ballot.

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The article posits several causes of the lack of meaningful voter participation, including the fact that judicial ethics rules forbid judges from making campaign promises. Although Florida judges are permitted to discuss their personal views on “hot-button issues” such as abortion and the death penalty, few judges do. This makes it harder for voters to know much about the judicial candidates. In addition, many voters choose judges based on factors such as name recognition, assumptions of the candidate’s race/background/ethnicity based on their name or current position on the bench.

The article argues that a successful judicial campaign relies on endorsements, financing, and good fortune in the guise of the right last name, favorable ballot position or having been previously elected to the bench. It is notable that reliance on these factors essentially means that judges are not elected based on their qualifications to serve as fair and impartial arbiters of justice.

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Judges play too crucial of a role in our society to be selected without meaningful evaluation of their qualifications. In states with Merit Selection, a nominating commission thoroughly vets judicial candidates and a judge is chosen by the governor from a short list provided by the nominating body.  In

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many states, the Senate must confirm the nominee.  After a short term, the public votes in a retention election. This allows voters to evaluate judges based on their performance and leads to meaningful voter participation.

In addition to voting in the retention election, Merit Selection provides numerous opportunities for the public to give their input. Voters sit on the nominating commission, provide information to the commission, give feedback to the governor on the short list of nominees, and testify before the senate during the confirmation process.

Meaningful voter participation must be a crucial element in a successful judicial selection process. Clearly, judicial elections do not provide that opportunity.


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Aug 07 2012

Judge Leadbetter on the Judicial Election Process

Published by under Merit Selection

Former Commonwealth Court President Judge Bonnie Brigance Leadbetter recently answered ten questions in the Philadelphia Bar Association’s quarterly publication, the Philadelphia Lawyer.  She was asked, “As a judge who was first appointed and then elected and retained to Commonwealth Court, do you believe that Pennsylvania should continue to elect judges?”  Judge Leadbetter responded, “No.  I have always supported some kind of appointive process.”  In both systems, she explained, one will find very good and very bad judges; however,

the money that is involved in the elective process is a problem and it gets worse because the amount of money it takes to run is enormous these days.”

She explained that judicial campaign contributions continue to increase, and “it’s not going to come for the most Online Blackjack part pirates of the caribbean online blackjack from people who have no interest whatsoever.”

Judge Leadbetter explained that she has never seen any kind of partisanship or bias among judges.  Despite these observations, she noted that it is difficult to credibly convey this to the public.

It’s hard for the citizens to read about big money being given by an interest group to a judge or a judicial candidate and not suspect that there might be some influence, even if it isn’t justified.”

In an elective process, there is more of an appearance of bias and partisanship because of who is contributing and the contribution amount.  Judge Leadbetter brings up an interesting point: if there is no partisanship or bias, even the appearance of partisanship weakens the

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judicial system.

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Aug 02 2012

Justice Orie Melvin Will Not Step Down

Published by under Merit Selection

According to an article in the Pittsburgh Tribune Review, Justice Joan Orie Melvin will not step down from the bench. At the conclusion of her preliminary hearing, District Judge James J. Hanley Jr. ordered her to stand trial on seven charges, including four felonies. Justice Orie Melvin was indicted earlier this summer for her alleged misuse of court staff and resources in her 2003 and 2009 campaigns for the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. She has pled not guilty to all charges and her arraignment is scheduled for August 14, 2012.

According to her attorney, “Justice Orie Melvin will not resign her position on the Supreme Court. Under our Constitution, prosecutors do not select the judiciary — voters do. Justice aussie online pokies Orie free pokie games online Melvin is committed to fulfilling her public responsibility.”

As Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts Executive Director Lynn Marks explained, there is a delicate balance between the presumption of innocence and the need to maintain the integrity of the Court. “We do think she’s innocent until proven guilty, but what hangs in the balance is the tension between her presumption of innocence and the proper operation of the Supreme Court.”

Following the preliminary hearing, the district attorney’s office filed a motion to consolidate the trial of Justice

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Orie Melvin with that of her sister, Janine Melvin. Janine Melvin worked for the Justice and was allegedly responsible for allocating court resources and staff on various projects.

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