Lessons Learned from the Mid-Term Judicial Elections; and Fondly Remembering Dick Perrault and Al Sobel

By Johnston, William D. | Judicature, November/December 2010 | Go to article overview

Lessons Learned from the Mid-Term Judicial Elections; and Fondly Remembering Dick Perrault and Al Sobel


Johnston, William D., Judicature


From national press reports, and certainly from the "nightly news," we can be left with the impression that the recently concluded mid-term elections involved only lhe election (or non-election) of officials al her than judges. But that of course was not the case, as poignantly underscored by the editorial in this issue of judicature.

We know that, as a matter of faci, numerous slate trial and appellate judges stood for retention and that numerous individuals sought elective judicial office for lhe tirs t time. We know that all such persons would be expected to he apolitical and impartial on the bench, yet, in order to become a member of the judiciary, first would have to face issues ranging from campaign fuudraising to campaign "speech." And we know that those persons who either were retained on the bench or elected to judicial office for the first time now will face recusal issues if (perhaps more likely when) litigants appear before them who have contributed to their respective campaigns.

"So what"? you may ask. "What part of this is neiv?"

The response. I suppose, is that litUe, if any. is new. But the rest of the response, in my view, and the first lesson to be gleaned from the mid-term elections, is ihat the recurrence of the election-related circumstances described above is no reason whatsoever to diminish salutary, nationwide efforts to promote judicial merit selection and to ensure a fair and impartial court system in which citizens have trust and confidence. The recurrence of these election-related circumstances instead reminds us, I submit, of the need to redouble reform efforts - to consider an appointive judicial selection system where now only an elective system is in place; to consider establishing bipartisan and othenvise diverse-judicial nominating commissions of lawyers and nonlawyers where there are no such commissions in place (for state and federal judicial selection); to consider meaningful judicial performance evaluations by lawyers and non-lawyers where such evaluations are not utilized; and, where judicial selection by election will continue Io be die approach for the foreseeable future, to consider a public financing; option or other campaign finance limitations where no such option or limitations are in place.

There is a second lesson to be gleaned from the recent elections: the situation is now more highly partisan and politicized than ever. In Iowa, for example, it appeal's that three members of that slate's supreme court were noi retained solely because of the outcome in one particular case. …

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