Saturday, November 6, 2010

A little election post-mortem

In light of the Republican sweep of the judicial races in Galveston County, we once again hear calls for non-partisan judicial elections. Those calls, by and large, come from the folks who came up on the short end of the stick.

Sure, there are some folks who will be sitting on the bench who have no business doing so all because they had an "R" after their name. Of course, there are other folks sitting on the bench who have no business doing so because they a "D" after their name. There are also quite a few folks who are well-qualified to sit on the bench who aren't because of the letter after their name.

What's the alternative to partisan judicial elections, I ask you? There is little a judicial candidate can say on the campaign trail other than they will follow the law and will treat everyone who comes before them with respect. They can talk about their experience and why they're are more qualified to sit on the bench than their opponent, but, outside those attorneys that do their work inside the courtroom, it's an abstraction.
What is most important is that the the political process be fair and transparent. And that judges abandon the politics in the courtroom and chambers. I believe most judges of both parties do their job without regard to politics regardless how they were chosen. I have been elected in a partisan election and lost an election in a partisan primary...I prefer contested elections because I believe the people have the right to choose their state and county judges...Even when my party  or I lose an election I  support the process. The people have the right to choose even  when I disagree with their choice. I  do not have a problem with the partisan process. Partisan primaries are a screening process. I think even  less people would participate in non-partisan elections...Each time lawyers and judges that were aligned with the losing party complained after the loss about the partisan part of the process claiming unqualified judges were elected. The truth is many qualified and unualified people get elected to benches and other offices every election year. Elected judges are not guaranteed infinite job security  in exchange for doing a good job.And sometimes the most qualified applicant does not get the apppointment. No sytem guarantees that that the best person always wins. The system is not flawed just because our party or favorite candidate or applicant does not win.
-- Judge Susan Criss, 212th Judicial District Court, Galveston County, Texas.
In a non-partisan election judicial candidates would have to educate the public about why they should sit on the bench. That means money - and lots of it. And who are the biggest campaign contributors to judicial candidates? It shouldn't surprise you that they are the attorneys who appear in their courts. If you want more special interest money and a handful of ethical dilemmas, make judges run without party affiliation.

Appointing judges is a non-starter in Texas. We don't trust the government any further than we can throw it. Texans wanted a weak state government so they chose to elect judges after Reconstruction.

Retention elections aren't the answer. Talk about a cesspool of special interest money. Judges would be, in essence, running against themselves. What percentage of the vote would be required for a judge to retain a bench? And what would happen if a judge failed to achieve that percentage? Would there be a special election to pick a judge or would we allow the governor to appoint someone to sit on the bench?

I think Judge Criss hit it on the head with her comments on her Facebook page. Partisan elections might not be the best method of picking judges, but it sure beats the alternatives.

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