I’ve been neglecting this blog a bit, but that’s just a temporary thing. If you care to read more, I’m doing a weekly post for KCFreePress.com. This week’s piece addresses the efforts to increase the role of money in selecting Missouri’s judges.
Archive for the ‘Missouri Plan’ Category
Professor Bill Eckhardt has a history of engaging in misleading right-wing attacks on the Missouri Plan for selection of judges. I won’t rehash the factual and logical mistakes he made in that failed attempt, other than to point out that it was embarrassing enough that the Dean of the Law School felt compelled to publicize her strong support of the Missouri Plan.
He’s at it again, with the same batch of false logic and factual mistakes that characterized his earlier attempt. It’s unworthy of a law professor, and it’s almost unworthy of response. In the end, as I’ve said before, the Missouri Plan works well, and every single attempt to change the Missouri Plan is designed to increase the role of politicians and political consultants.
BUT – right at the end, Professor Eckhardt tosses in a doozy of an argument that deserves to be pointed out, if only for its intellectual, political and moral bankruptcy. Professor Eckhardt asks those of us who defend the plan that has served as a model for other states:
Are they not concerned that defeating HJR 10 could lead to a ballot initiative that would completely eliminate the Missouri Plan and move Missouri to something no one has asked for yet? Though a move to contested judicial elections — opposed by many of us — has not been proposed by reformers, others may be tempted if modest reforms fail.
If that is the case, the Missouri Bar and other opponents may look at a Missouri in which judges are directly elected and dream of the days when moderate reform was possible.
In other words, Professor Eckhardt is trying to convince us to abandon a successful system of judicial selection because if we don’t, his side of the argument might do something really, really stupid – something so stupid that he opposes it, and nobody has even proposed it yet!
It is a sign of the desperation of those who hate our judicial system that they are resorting to hollow threats in an attempt to further politicize our courts.
The Republican who headed up the backroom effort to treat Missouri License Offices like political plums instead of vital public services is back on the stump. This time, he’s trying to make judicial appointments subject to the same kind of corrupt cronyism that marked fee offices under the Blunt administration.
Two days ago, I did a post entitled “No Idea is Too Stupid to Voice in Jefferson City – or to Win a Republican Majority“, about a foolish and ill-thought-out plan to shift the tax burden of our state onto the working poor in mid-Missouri. The attempts to inject Missouri Senate politics into the selection of our judges deserves the same title, though.
Please keep these two points in mind, whenever you hear any discussion about the Missouri Plan for Selection of Judges – the Missouri Plan works well, and every single attempt to change the Missouri Plan is designed to increase the role of politicians and political consultants.
If you want a primer on the plan as it exists, please take a few minutes and read “The Complete Honest Truth about the Missouri Plan“, which I wrote a year and a half ago when people were trying to inject more politics into the selection process.
This time around, the effort to corrupt our system is being led by the very same person whose cronyism caused the Missouri fee office appointment system to explode into an embarrassing scandal. He even gave one of the offices to his grandmother! (Perhaps she wants to be a judge now?)
This is one of the most important and troubling issues in Jefferson City this year, and even though it’s complex and not particularly sexy, I urge you to educate yourself about the issue and encourage your Senator to preserve the Missouri Plan.
The Missouri Plan worked again yesterday, as Governor Matt Blunt chose one of three well-qualified candidates as his final appointment to the Missouri Supreme Court. Judge Fischer has served on the bench in Atchison County since 2006, after having served his community in a solo law shop for years.
I’ve known Judge Fischer for years, and he is going to be a fine member of the Supreme Court. I say that despite the fact that he and I are worlds apart in politics. Zel and I worked together on the Missouri Bar Young Lawyers Section, which gave us plenty of opportunity to sit around in the evening and discuss our views on various issues (as well as share a few laughs). Suffice it to say that we saw things differently. Despite the disagreements, though, we shared a respect for the judicial system and its role in society.
It says something positive about Zel and his approach to conflict that I was always enthusiastically invited up to Rock Port for a round of golf and a good steak. We were never going to be best of friends, but he was open-minded enough to invite this city liberal up for a good time. I wish I had taken him up on the offer.
Zel Fischer is a true conservative and a good man. While I suppose I could complain that the Supreme Court seat should go to someone closer to my own political philosophy, I respect the fact that Governor Blunt gets to pick the judges. Besides, political affiliation matters much less to me for a Supreme Court judge than does quality of mind and fidelity to the job of applying law to the facts of the case in front of the Court.
Congratulations to Judge Zel Fischer. Congratulations to Governor Matt Blunt – you got yourself a true conservative who will serve the Supreme Court long after you have left office. Congratulations to the Supreme Court nominating committee – you sent the Governor a panel with three excellent choices.
Most of all, though, congratulations to Missouri – you have once again benefitted from the best system for judicial appointments in the United States – the Missouri Plan.
While almost everyone in the State of Missouri knows how they will vote in the “big” elections, many of us get thrown off our game when we get “down ballot”. It’s easy to know who you’re voting for at the President and Governor level, but when you get down to some of the propositions and the judicial retention ballots, it’s easy to find yourself resorting to guesswork.
This year, Jackson Countians will face a list of judges and a decision on whether or not to retain each of them. The judges are as follows:
SUPREME COURT OF MISSOURI
16TH JUDICIAL CIRCUIT (JACKSON COUNTY)
Michael W. Manners
John R. O’Malley
Peggy Stevens McGraw
Kelly Moorhouse (Judge Moorhouse died earlier this week, but her name will be on the ballot. I’ll be casting my vote for retention as a tiny tribute to a fine woman and a great public servant.)
John M. Torrence
Robert M. Schieber
Brian C. Wimes
Unless you’re a lawyer or a courthouse regular, you’ve probably never heard of most of these individuals. How should you vote?
Despite a wide variety in their backgrounds and experience levels, I encourage you strongly to vote in favor of each of these judges. The links on their names will direct you to the Missouri Bar’s Judicial Evaluation of each of them, and they are an impressive lot. If you live in Missouri outside of Jackson County, you will have a different list of judges to vote for, and you can get those judicial evaluations, as well, at the Missouri Bar judicial evaluation website.
Even if you’re going to simply take my advice and vote to retain each of the judges, I’d encourage you to take a few minutes and look at the evaluations. They will demonstrate to you just how well the Missouri Plan works.
The process is above traditional politics. By all rights under traditional politics, for example, I ought to be vigorously opposing Judge Breckenridge. She’s a Republican – and she got her initial appointment from John Ashcroft, and her Supreme Court appointment from Matt Blunt. Those are the sort of credentials that ought to have a “yellow dog democrat” like me demanding to have her driven from office.
But she’s a fine judge brought to us by a good process. People who know the law and the judges nominated her to be considered as one of three candidates for her position, based on her judicial temperament, legal ability and other factors aimed at picking great judges instead of great partisans. As a Missouri citizen, I sincerely do not care how Patricia Breckenridge the citizen votes when she casts her presidential ballot, but I care deeply that when she votes on cases in her job as Missouri Supreme Court judge, she does so on the facts and the law. As demonstrated by her outstanding scores in the evaluation process, a vast majority of Missouri lawyers, of all political persuasions, agree with me.
The same thing goes for all the other judges on this year’s Jackson County ballot.
If you don’t trust lawyers to evaluate the judges, though, I strongly encourage you to look at the juror evaluations. These are submitted by jurors (your peers) who have personally witnessed the judge in action. The scores are virtually unanimous that the judges listed have treated people equally and with dignity and were well prepared, etc.
I fully expect that each of the judges listed above will be retained by wide margins. Ironically, the opponents of the Missouri Plan will argue that those margins demonstrate that the voters aren’t smart enough to be trusted to retain only the good ones. They are all good ones. The system is working. Go look at the thorough information available to you, and you can vote with complete confidence.
The Missouri Plan has given you an excellent set of judges. Retain them, and support politicians from either party who promise to retain the Missouri Plan.
Missouri has a bunch of great contests this year, and the Lieutenant Governor’s race is one where we stand a strong chance of replacing a Republican incumbent with a great Democrat.
Peter Kinder, the incumbent, got caught up in a sex scandal when his Chief of Staff was arrested for having pornographic conversations with a cop he thought was a thirteen year-old girl. The police report is nauseating. Kinder drew himself into the fray by declaring, 3 hours after the arrest, that an investigation had determined state computers weren’t used, and the criminal conversations took place during “comp time”.
Bad enough? Yes, but there’s more . . .
It turns out that people at the Chief of Staff level do not receive comp time, and computer experts are pointing out that forensic investigations of computers cannot be conducted in three hours. What we’re seeing here is a little CYA.
Wait, there’s more . . .
The person in charge of the office that supposedly did the computer investigation has now been hired by Peter Kinder as Chief of Staff to replace the pervy predecessor! Not only that, but that new guy is already under investigation for helping the one-term sitting governor violate Missouri’s sunshine law by deleting public record emails.
Yes, there’s more . . .
The Governor who has been hiding the emails has now left the country. That means that Kinder has the ability to release the emails and quell the scandal. Sam Page, the Democrat running against him, has called upon him to do just that, but Kinder has refused.
Instead, he’s bringing in Karl Rove today, to speak at a $2700/plate fundraiser, and, presumably, offer some off-stage advice in how to juggle multiple scandals.
And, just in case you were wondering if that was all, there’s (at least) one more scandal related to this sordid story. Kinder’s campaign fundraising got rocked this past week by the explosion of a money-laundering scandal.
If you want to help Missourians replace their corrupt Republican Lieutenant Governor with a solid, ethical candidate who happens to be one of the nicest and best-qualified candidates I’ve met this election cycle, give his website a click and maybe even put some money in his kitty to offset Karl Rove’s visit today.
Revolution may be afoot in the Missouri Bar regarding the matter I raised on this page back a couple months ago. The Board of Governors is back from their plush vacation at Atlantis, a luxurious resort in the Bahamas. They have been surprised that many of their colleagues are upset about the fact that the Board of Governors paid for their expensive travels out of the dues that they impose on other lawyers.
The Small Firm Internet Group (SFIG) listserve is a feisty collection of “regular guy and gal” type lawyers who share their opinions freely, and it became a hotbed of criticism of the Board’s imperial behavior. The lavish sojourn has them particularly upset as it comes on the heels of a healthy dues increase passed by the same Board of Governors.
The outcry has caused Keith Birkes, the executive director of the Missouri Bar, to pen a post to the SFIG (an unprecedented step, to my knowledge) defending the dues increase. Regarding the travel expenses, Mr. Birkes explains:
There are five meetings of the Board of Governors each year – four of them inside Missouri and one traditionally outside Missouri at the site of The Missouri Bar�s Midyear Seminar. Reasonable and necessary travel expenses are reimbursed to Board members for the in-state meetings, and an adequate per diem is set for the one out-of-state meeting of the Board of Governors to cover travel, meals and two nights� lodging. At the most recent Midyear Seminar, $1,100 was authorized each Board member who attended the meeting. Members of the Board of Governors annually give up a minimum of ten working days in order to attend to their responsibilities as an elected member of the Board of Governors and many of them devote 20 or more working days to attend to those responsibilities.
The use of the passive voice in describing the reimbursement amount is kind of amusing. The $1,100 trip “was authorized each Board member” by none other than the Board of Governors itself. For several years, the Board has had a Conflict of Interest policy providing that “It is the obligation of members of The Missouri Bar, its Board of Governors, Committees and Staff to fully disclose any conflicts of interest that they may have while acting on behalf of, or participating in, the decision-making process of The Missouri Bar“, but no such disclosures appear in any minutes of the Board concerning reimbursement policies or budget discussions.
Now, to be crystal clear, the Board of Governors is an outstanding collection of individuals, and Keith Birkes, is the single most competent, ethical and wise executive director I have ever worked with in more than two decades of nonprofit experience. My discussion is not meant to be a personal attack on anyone. But the Board of Governors is making a terrible mistake in blowing Missouri money and their own political capital on lavish trips to exotic locales. That money could be far better spent on meetings supporting Missouri workers, and the money blown on airfare to the Bahamas could be better spent on educating our public on how the Missouri Plan for selection and retention of judges is a crucial element of “the administration of justice and the law on behalf of the public.” That would be money well-spent.
Among all the talk surrounding right-wing attempts to alter our Missouri Plan for judicial selection, one fixed truth remains: Every single proposal being bandied about by the opponents of the Missouri Plan increases the influence of money and partisanship. Everyone one of them. No exceptions.
Fortunately, we can look at other states and see what happens when we increase the role of money in the process. In yesterday’s New York Times there is a disturbing article about the tendency of judges to vote in favor of those who gave them money. Rather than relying on anecdotes and rumors, the article reports on a statistical study that found, among other anomalies,
Larger contributions had larger effects, the study found. Justice Catherine D. Kimball was 30 percent more likely to vote for a defendant with each additional $1,000 donation. The effect was even more pronounced for Justice Weimer, who was 300 percent more likely to do so.
When opponents of the Missouri Plan come talking about ways to increase the role of money and partisanship in our judicial system, keep this study in mind. Think about whether you think that our bench would be better if we had more money and partisanship involved. Think about whether, right now, you trust the wisdom of our Missouri Supreme Court more than the wisdom of our Missouri General Assembly.
Blog CCP has an incredible and horrifying post about Representative Jim Lembke, the lead opponent of the Missouri Plan. If anyone in Missouri was tempted to believe that the Republican attacks on the Missouri Plan were motivated by anything other than a rabid desire to inject partisan politics into the courthouse.
Representative Lembke has a Republican buddy whose son getting an ugly divorce in Laclede County, and he wants to bully the judge. He’s tried to get the judge impeached. He’s written to her, even though he has no more official role in the case than you or I do, demanding that she remove herself from his friend’s case. He’s gone so far beyond the bounds of acceptable behavior that even his Republican cohort from Laclede County has called Lembke out on it, raising questions about Lembke’s ethics and pointing out that “I feel its not our responsibility to look over a judge’s shoulder every two or three minutes and make a claim they’re using their bench for oppression.”
Let’s be crystal clear about what Lembke is trying to do here. He’s trying to use political influence to help a buddy in court. He wants to make sure that his political friend gets what he wants. He wants politically connected people to get special favors. He wants the Judicial Branch to run on backroom connections just the way the legislature does. You scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours.
Ironically, Judge Hutson is not even covered by the Missouri Plan. Judge Hutson was elected by the voters, as a Democrat in a county that went for Bush by a 2:1 margin in 2004. She’s clearly a great judge and a fine person – she even has a Republican representative backing her up.
Lembke wants the judiciary to work the way the legislature does – dominated by money, partisanship and political influence. Do you?
Normally, I’m cynical about online petitions. In this case, though, the people working to head off efforts to increase the influence of money and partisanship on our judicial selection need to demonstrate that they can reach and motivate a significant number of Missouri voters. Many of the political consultants in Jefferson City believe that this complex issue is over the heads of average voters, and that they can get away with injecting more partisanship into our judicial selection.
Now is the time to shape the understanding of those who want to undermine the Missouri Plan. Now is the time to let them know that a significant bloc of us are watching. Now is the time to let them know that their political football is a hot potato.
Please go here and sign the online petition. It’s a rare opportunity to define the terms of an important debate and head off pointless fights. There are a lot of members of the General Assembly who are on the fence on this issue, and if they see that 1500 Missourians are watching, they’ll back away from it now, before it really gets started.