Thoughtless Retention of Judges Can't Be Considered a Success; Missouri Plan; Voter Apathy Reveals a Weakness in State's Method of Judicial Elections

Article excerpt

About 563,000 St. Louis Countians cast votes in the November 2008 election.

But when it came to making a yes-or-no vote about whether 19 judges should remain on the bench, up to a quarter of those citizens left the booth without making a decision.

All 19 were retained. Nothing new there. Since St. Louis County adopted the Missouri Plan of selecting judges in 1970, voters have never removed a judge.

Indeed, since the Missouri Plan was begun in 1940, only two judges have been removed by voters - one in Kansas City in 1942 and one in Clay County in 1992. (The Kansas City case was probably an anomaly. The judge in question had the support of the Tom Pendergast machine at a time when public sentiment had finally turned against the machine.)

To the Missouri Bar, this stability is a sign that the system works. The bar's website states: "The success of the plan in selecting qualified judges is evident from the fact that since its adoption, the public has not voted any appellate judge out of office, and only two circuit judges have been voted out of office."

Really? It's really a sign that the public as a whole in St. Louis city and Jackson, Greene, St. Louis, Clay and Platte counties believe every judge is doing a good job?

Doubtful. More likely is that most voters, who never have to go inside a county courthouse, don't care.

To its credit, the Bar is making a stronger effort to get the word out about judicial elections. It has compared turnouts for the governor's and judicial races since 2000, and the gap is narrowing. In 2008, 79 percent of the St. Louis Countians who voted for governor also voted on judges, the Bar said. …