Thursday, October 11, 2012

And what alternative would you propose?

Oh, Mark, Mark, Mark.

Democracy is a very messy business. And, no, electing judges by partisan election isn't the best idea in the world. But what are the alternatives?

Would you rather the governor appoint the judges? Then we'd be left with a bunch of political hacks and big-money donors presiding over trials across the state.

Then would we wait for judges to die or resign or would we have periodic retention elections? Just wait for the single-issue partisans to get involved in those elections.

Non-partisan elections? How are candidates going to raise enough money to make their names known to the public? Lots and lots of campaign contributions from law firms, bondsmen and companies who depend on our predilection to throw people in jail at an ever increasing rate.

Four years ago the voters of Harris County threw out most of the Republican judges and replaced them with Democratic judges. And, you know what, the new judges are just as bad and just as incompetent as the ones they replaced.

Mike Wilkinson, the visiting judge I wrote about yesterday, sat on the bench in the 179th District Court until the voters fired him and hired Randy Roll. Judge Roll has been antagonistic to the defense and has used his seat to bully defendants to give up their constitutional right to trial by jury. He has ordered defendants to be held without bail illegally. He has revoked bonds on defendants who violated no express provision of their bonds. And, come January 1, Judge Roll will be off the bench, to be replaced by Kristen Guiney. Ms. Guiney will take the bench because she is running with an R after her name. The public doesn't know who she is. The public doesn't care.

After the 2008 elections I spoke with a civil judge whose daughter was on my youth soccer team. She told me that she asked one of the criminal judges who lost how it felt. The ex-judge told her that she won her seat because she had an R after her name and she lost her seat because she had an R after her name. It was just a part of the game.

For the most part, the public doesn't give a fuck about who sits on the bench. Most of your friends and neighbors will never see the inside of a courtroom and don't really care what goes on inside. It's an abstraction to them. They will make completely uninformed decisions that will affect a bunch of folks they'll never meet.

But, as screwed up a system as that is, it beats the alternative. It is better to have our judges at least somewhat accountable to the public than completely aloof from it. As Mr. Bennett has pointed out in the past, the more local the government, the more power it has to screw up your life. Our state judges should be on a short leash.

As to the rest of Mr. Bennett's criticism, Judge Susan Brown of the 185th Judicial District Court chose Mr. Wilkinson to sit on her bench.

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