*** Bench Positions Costing Much More Today
- Bench Positions CostingMuch More TodayI remind you - check the backgrounds on anyone running for any office - especially for the position of JUDGE as they are the ones who will make the rules - not the legislative body as it was meant to be. Watch out for WHO appointed them.... many times that will tell you far more than anything else.
Judicial races increasingly politicized
Attack ads, statements on issues give many campaigns air of jurisimprudence
By William Glaberson; The New York Times
With touchstone issues like death penalty challenges, school financing and changes in liability laws hanging in the balance, contests for state judgeships around the country have become bruising multimillion-dollar political affairs that critics say are threatening the independence of the nation's state courts.
Millions of dollars in campaign contributions are flowing into races for top state judgeships this year, while candidates are testing the limits of rules that forbid them from signaling how they might vote on cases, according to judicial candidates, political consultants and lawyers across the country.
Attack advertising, the use of aggressive political consultants and what are often only thinly veiled promises to sustain or overturn controversial decisions are now established parts of
campaigns for seats on state courts.
"Judicial campaigns are getting noisier, nastier and costlier," said Roy A. Schotland, an expert on judicial politics who is a professor at Georgetown University Law Center. "The amount of money being spent keeps escalating and the number of states in which this is happening is escalating."
In Ohio this year, more than $5 million and possibly as much as $12 million may be spent in a battle for a single seat on the state Supreme Court. The campaign, one of the most bitterly
contested in the country, could shift the ideological balance of the court. Twenty years ago, a campaign for the same court cost $100,000.
Races for state Supreme Courts in Michigan, Illinois, Alabama, Idaho and other states are also drawing national attention. Already this year, supreme court campaigns have included claims of race baiting, dirty politics, catering to rich trial lawyers and abdication to business interests.
The intensity of the races, legal and political experts say, indicates that the big-dollar judicial politicking that gained momentum in the 1980s with campaigns that ousted top judges in Texas and California, among others, have now become entrenched parts of the political system.
One reason may be the polarization that has affected government at all levels, creating an ever-more vibrant cottage industry in most cities of political consultants and advisers. Also, as the federal government has become less ambitious in seeking solutions to social problems, in the eras of Newt Gingrich and Bill Clinton, state courts have become battlegrounds for emotional issues like abortion, health care and the financing of public schools. And many of those issues are now starting to land in the state trial and appeals courts.
Efforts to limit liability lawsuits and damage awards in many state legislatures - so-called tort-reform - also have accelerated the political forces at work on state courts. The measures, which often place a maximum on damage awards and otherwise limit recoveries by people claiming injury, have spawned legal challenges in many state courts, which, in turn, have spawned campaigns by trial lawyers and business groups to shift those courts their way.
But the issues in statewide judicial races are unpredictably diverse. In the Alabama race for chief justice of the Supreme Court, for example, a candidate who posted the Ten Commandments in his courtroom has built a huge following.
In the Idaho race last month, a trial judge unseated an incumbent state Supreme Court justice for the first time since 1944 after an extraordinarily bitter campaign in which the eventual winner had declared that the theory of evolution could not be true.
In Illinois, two Democratic judges vying for a seat on the state Supreme Court this spring each spent $1 million in campaigns that included pummeling each other in television advertising. One suggested the other was responsible for sending "innocent
men to death row while killers walk the street." The other warned voters that "one candidate has taken the low road."
In the new judicial politics, judges sometimes appear as petty as other politicians - and as subject to influence. In a boisterous $1.3 million campaign last year in Wisconsin, the state's chief justice, Shirley S. Abrahamson, was forced to explain, for example, why she had once allowed a late-night aerobics class in the court's ornate hearing room. Abrahamson said the exercise class had been a "morale builder" for her aides. She won re-election, although there was widespread concern the court had been harmed by a campaign that divided the justices. Four of her colleagues broke the unspoken precedent that typically keeps justices outside the political fray and openly supported Abrahamson's well-financed opponent.
The four suggested they were opposed to Abrahamson's management style, but there was also speculation that one of the four would have liked to have succeeded her in the top spot.
Across the country, there are significant consequences to judges taking on the persona of politicians, said Anthony Champagne, a political science professor and expert on the judiciary at the University of Texas at Dallas. In many states, until the 1980s, the appointment or election of judges was arranged through quiet agreements among politicians and bar associations. "It is a new system," said Champagne, "where lots of money is involved, where judges are highly dependent on their political parties and political operatives and where judges are tempted to make promises that might affect their judicial decisions. It is something that is new in America and it has the potential of being a really corrupting force."
The politicking is becoming increasingly explicit. As the battle over changes in liability laws has moved into the courts in the last few years, both business groups and their trial lawyer adversaries have been increasingly open in describing the battle to win judgeships in bald political terms.
In a newsletter last fall, for example, the Michigan Manufacturers Association told its members about the importance of this year's state Supreme Court election. The newsletter flatly outlined the group's political goal. In the last election, it boasted, contributions from the manufacturers' political action committee "swayed the Supreme Court election to a conservative viewpoint, ensuring a pro-manufacturing agenda."
In all, 42 states elect judges at some level and more than 80 percent of all state appeals judges face election, according to the American Bar Association.
© The New York Times
J.A.I.L. (Judicial Accountability Initiative Law)
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