Archive for January, 2013

Jan 28 2013

The Business of Justice

Published by under Merit Selection

Wednesday, January 23 could prove to be a game-changer in the history of the Pennsylvania judiciary. The day marked the beginning of the corruption trial for suspended PA Supreme Court Justice Joan Orie Melvin. It was also the day that State Senators Anthony H. Williams (D-Philadelphia) and Richard Alloway (R-Adams, Franklin, York) introduced a constitutional amendment that would bring Merit Selection to Pennsylvania’s three appellate courts.

These two events have collided to create a nearly perfect storm for reform efforts. The charges against Justice Orie Melvin highlight the very serious problems created by judicial elections. Running for judge in Pennsylvania is big business, and like any business, a judicial campaign requires a large amount of capital to get off the ground. Quite often, campaign contributions come from lawyers, “businesses, unions, and other groups seeking the courts’ ear.”

A Philadelphia Inquirer undermine public confidence. … Pennsylvania’s system of electing judges … has, at best, fostered mediocrity and, at worst, led to an atmosphere of judicial misconduct.”

Beyond the obvious financial concerns, there is precious little information available to the electorate that can be used to make an educated choice in a judicial election. People “vote on factors such as ballot position, ethnicity and geography – hardly the way  to find qualified judges.” The efforts to

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institute Merit Selection of appellate judges in Pennsylvania are certainly not new, but the need for reform is, perhaps, more dire than ever. The landscape of judicial elections is changing. The data show record-breaking spending by special interests, and there is no reason to believe that Pennsylvania will be immune from this trend. Public confidence in the judiciary is wavering. It’s time to show Pennsylvanians that providing fair and impartial justice is a top priority in the Commonwealth.

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“No system is perfect, and the proposed amendment cannot eliminate all political considerations. But it would mitigate politics and elevate true qualifications as the means to be considered for seats on the Commonwealth, Superior and Supreme courts.”

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Jan 25 2013

Merit Selection Bill Introduced in Pennsylvania Senate

Published by under Merit Selection

Pennsylvania lawmakers have introduced legislation for Merit Selection of appellate judges.
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The legislation proposes a constitutional amendment that would create an Appellate Court Nominating Commission designed to effectively evaluate judicial candidates and present a selective list of the most qualified candidates to the governor.  The governor would then nominate from the provided list, with candidates then requiring Senate confirmation.  Following a short initial term, judges would stand before voters in a nonpartisan uncontested retention election.

Lead co-sponsor of the legislation, Sen. Anthony Williams (D-Philadelphia), comments that the legislation is  “about ensuring integrity on the bench,” continuing that citizens must have “utmost confidence in our judiciary, and right now, that’s simply not the case.”

Lynn Marks, Executive Director of PMC and PMCAction, echoes this sentiment, stating, “The role of a judge is to make impartial decisions based solely on the facts and law, but judicial elections basically require judges to become politicians.”

With many controversial issues now facing the perception of Pennsylvania’s courts, Marks further explains that the current system of election is designed “to pick the best campaigners and fundraisers

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not the best judges.  Pennsylvanians need a system that is designed to get the most qualified, fair, and impartial judges on the bench.”

To remedy this, Marks argues that

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“Pennsylvanians deserve a system where judges are chosen based on candidates’ credentials, not their campaign war chests, political affiliation, where they live, a familiar name, or where their name is on the ballot.”

Sen. Williams and co-sponsor Sen. Richard Alloway’s (R-Adams/Franklin/York) legislation would help significantly remedy these issues by taking the electioneering out of Pennsylvania’s current system of judicial selection of appellate judges.

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Jan 21 2013

If It Ain’t Broke…

Published by under Merit Selection

The Kansas State Legislature has recently been alight with calls to revamp the state’s judicial selection process. The U.S. form of government is rooted in the ability to change bad or broken laws, but in this case, there’s one big problem: Merit Selection in Kansas is working.

Opponents of Merit Selection have alleged that the current process places too much power

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in the hands of the Kansas Bar Association. Their proposed solution is a switch to a Federal-style system where the governor would appoint judges to the bench. The appointees would then be subject to confirmation by the state Senate. The proposal has been met with fervent opposition.

Ever since reforms were proposed, there has been an outpouring of support for Kansas’s current Merit Selection system. A poll conducted by Justice at Stake showed that 61% of respondents favored the current system over the proposed changes, and a flurry of articles from editorial boards and pundits has praised the virtues of the status quo.
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The Topeka Capital-Journal quoted Justice at Stake Executive Director Bert Brandenburg, “Kansans don’t want

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to tamper with their constitution. They want their judges chosen based on their qualifications, not partisan politics. They’re not comfortable vesting so much power in the hands of a governor, even one that they like.”

But beyond the political power plays and constitutional issues, lies a simple truth. Kansas Bar Association president Lee Smithyman phrased it eloquently and succinctly in his testimony urging Kansas legislators to maintain the current Merit Selection System. “This is a system that works. This is a system that generates an excellent judiciary.” And as the old saying goes…If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

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Jan 18 2013

A Better Way: Wisconsin Editorial Urges Reforming Judicial Election System

Published by under Merit Selection

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel editorial urges Wisconsinites to join more than half of U.S. states by reforming their Supreme Court judicial selection process to avoid the inherent harms in the current judicial election system.

Citing “a series of poisonous contests” as contributing to a lowered reputation of the court, the Sentinel predicts that the upcoming race could be equally contentious, prompting outside interest groups to weigh in, with “big money pouring into this race from both

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sides.”

According to the Brennan Center for Justice, in the previous Wisconsin Supreme Court race, special interest spending reached new records when outside groups spent more than $3.5 million on television ads alone.

In this race, Justice Patience Roggensack is up for election for a second term.  Justice Roggensack will face law Ativan 1mg professor Ativan 1mg Ed Fallone as well as attorney Vince Megna in an upcoming primary.  With the court likely hearing highly controversial cases in the near future, the editorial predicts, “Whatever is in the heart of the candidates, they will be pegged by the outside interests, which may spend millions of dollars to

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ensure that their interests are served.”

Facing such a potentially contentious race, the editorial states, “We think there is a better way.”
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With similar issues facing Pennsylvania in the 2013 election year, both Wisconsinites and Pennsylvanians must continue to fight for a better way to select judges.  Judicial selection should not be sold to the highest bidder, but rather a result of thoughtful selection process based on qualifications. The time for merit selection is now.

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Jan 14 2013

Chief Justice Castille Supports Reform

Published by under Merit Selection

Pennsylvania Supreme Court Chief Justice Ron Castille spoke with WHYY’s Dave Davies on subjects ranging from the Philadelphia Family Courthouse to Philadelphia Traffic Court to Mandatory Retirement and Retention Elections. One subject that featured rather prominently in the interview was the influence of politics on the court and Chief Justice Castille’s continued support for judicial selection reform.

The Chief Justice said that he has favored reform ever since he ran for the Pennsylvania Supreme Court in 1993. The electoral system just didn’t make sense to him as an effective way to choose judges. Essentially, it put judges in the same

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position as any other elected official. Candidates have to campaign and raise money and go on TV. This system doesn’t give Pennsylvania the Online Blackjack best Online Blackjack judges.
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Castille admitted that politics would be a factor in any selection system, but the trend of ever-increasing campaign donations in judicial races is harmful. “I’ve seen poll after poll…the question is asked, ‘Do you believe that political contributions influence a judge’s decision?’ It’s usually about 80% of the people who are polled believe that. And that’s not a good thing. People lack confidence in justice.”

As the new legislative session gets under way, the time is right for Pennsylvania to enact reform. The 2013

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judicial election cycle has already started to stir up controversy. With a number of landmark cases on the docket, Pennsylvania judges need to focus on the administration of justice, not the campaign trail.

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Jan 03 2013

Merit, not politics, in Ohio judicial selection

Published by under Merit Selection

Case Western Reserve University School of Law Professor Jonathan H. Adler has praised Ohio Governor John Kaisch’s system of selection that the governor installed to choose a new interim Supreme Court Justice.

Ohio, like Pennsylvania, primarily elects its judges. If a judge should leave the bench in between election cycles, the Ohio constitution affords the governor the right to appoint a judge until the next election takes place.  Rather than wield his gubernatorial authority to unilaterally replace Ohio Supreme Court Justice Evelyn Lundberg Stratton when she announced her retirement earlier this year, Kaisch instead announced the formation of a selection committee of Ohio attorneys to assist him in making his decision.

Adler was one of the attorneys called to evaluate the thirteen applicants to

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replace Justice Stratton and offer a recommendation. “The process could have been quite political,” he writes in his blog entry on the Volokh Conspiracy, “but I was surprised at how little politics intruded. The Governor made clear he did not want political considerations to intrude on our deliberations. Beyond the recognition that state supreme court justice is an elective office, and the appointee would have to stand for reelection in two years, politics were not a concern. We did not have to worry who had the best political connections, who was owed a favor, or who could help the Governor politically. Instead, we identified the most qualified candidates and their respective strengths and weaknesses.”

This is a tremendously positive step for Ohio. Certainly the process Kaisch employed is informal, and at most would be only personally binding – if he wishes to do so, he could simply cancel his selection scheme in the future, similar to how North Carolina Governor Bev Purdue scrapped hers prior to leaving office. In this instance, however, Kaisch has demonstrated a willingness to move outside of the usual channels of politics in order to have competent advisement on creating the most unbiased and impartial judiciary for his state.

Hopefully his leadership in this matter will spark enthusiasm for more permanent and far-reaching reforms in the years to come, both in his home state, and in

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