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Rid Louisiana of elected judges system, but do it right

The Shreveport Times printed an interesting editorial arguing, as I have for many years, that Louisiana needs to rid itself of election of judges. Without going into too many details, it parallels my thoughts in that election simply provides too many opportunities for compromising justice with politics, running the gamut of aspects from contribution to accountability.

At the same time, a purely direct appointive system such as seen at the federal level would not be best either. Given, unlike at the federal level where criminal cases are relatively few and then only serious crimes, that at the state and local level most cases are criminal involving local people with generally little attention paid to them, it becomes too easy for a judge appointed for life during good behavior to interject personal or political agendas into the decision-making process.

But The Times’ suggestion, which is a judicial panel of supposed “experts” such as sitting lawyers to achieve merit selection, also would do harm to justice. In both Florida and Missouri ideologically politicized panels of lawyers have been able to subvert the process. The better means would be to remove direct political influence from an appointive process that otherwise could force the selection of individuals who adhere to a particular ideology.

As I have recommended previously, the best way to do this is to have elected officials, whose decisions can be held accountable by the electorate, create a nomination panel that may have some rules to assure some kind of balance from and merit in nominees (for example, designating that certain members must come from the major political parties and registered independents, and that others be sitting jurists). The terms would short and non-renewable by gubernatorial appointment with legislative or perhaps only Senate confirmation. The panel could forward sets of nominees to the governor for his approval who could select one or reject all, with the chosen serving for life during good behavior. (These nominations also could be vetted by the Legislature or Senate.)

This works because it almost entirely removes from the process those individuals with vested interests in who gets the job – lawyers who practice in front of these judges – and dramatically reduces the influence of interest groups that claim neutrality but have agendas. At the same time, it retains accountability indirectly because the decisions of elected officials to stock the panel and of the governor and maybe others in selections that can be evaluated at the election booth by the people.

While a pure “Missouri Plan” would include a retention election after some period as well, this could bring the influence and accountability problems concerning elections noted by myself and The Times. Better might be easier recall rules, such as only a 10 percent of registered voter standard rather than the current one-third to add more political accountability to the people. And the existing self-policing standards of the state’s judiciary also can be retained to encourage ethical behavior.

There’s no doubt that the pure electoral nature of the current system must be changed to improve it. But any such change must be done correctly or the system is not improve


Anonymous said...

In Tennessee, the GOP controlled State Senate is trying to scrap their retention system and return to electing judges on a partisan basis along with the Treasurer,SOS and AG. The reverse is true in Alabama. Where the democrats are trying to scrap the partisan elections there mainly because they have lost all of the statewide races. I personally come down on the side of electing Judges. Mainly because its been my experience that if you let them take away your right to vote for one office today then they'll be back tomorrow trying to take away your right to vote for another office. Then before you know it you'll end up like Tennessee. Where you can only vote for Governor. While the insiders meet in country clubs and pick the state attorney general,supreme court judges and the SOS . Mr Sadow, whether the people in charge have an R or D beside their name thats not something I like.

Anonymous said...

Just change the system to prevent attorneys from donating to judicial campaigns.

Pawpaw said...

The problem, Jeff, isn't that we elect our judges, it's that we let them stay in office unopposed. You're right that a rational attorney doesn't want to run against a sitting judge. The fix is simple.

If a judge is finishing his term and is going to run unnopposed, the election becomes an up or down vote by the people. If they vote him out, he's out and can't run for two terms. The election officials set an expedited schedule to fill the vacancy.

We could use this system from everything from dog catcher to governor.