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Send lawyers, guns and money.... - Blather. Rants. Repeat.
A Møøse once bit my sister ...
Send lawyers, guns and money....
The shit has hit the fan!

Perhaps you recall my windmill-tilting from a month or so ago, where I renewed being rather perturbed about the way my state's constitution permits (and, sadly, so does the federal one), and party-poltical tradition demands, that party chairmen almost singlehandedly decide who gets their party nominations to run for seats on the state's trial court of general jurisdiction. I questioned why the "judicial convention" system isn't more open to party newcomers and outsiders, and whether the system might work better if the convention was a truly open process where any voter, particularly a knowledgeable lawyer, could petition to join the convention and participate in a real choice.

Results so far have been mixed.

I sent in a piece to the local bar association's newsletter, which they printed in this month's issue as a letter to the editor. It's a somewhat less snarky version of this blog piece from last fall, but I also edited out any reference to the friend who spent most of last spring and summer running for the job and then fell on his sword last fall for the good of the party. He's running again this year, when five seats are up for grabs rather than the one unusual odd-year vacancy of 2013, and already people are looking at him funny on my account.

Because, you see, in order to get some information about how to become a delegate, I had to fill out a Freedom of Information request. I used my home address on it. Still. Within a day, my friend (who works in the same building I do but is not otherwise affiliated with me, or I with him or his campaign) got at least two calls from party insiders asking wtf Ray was up to.

So far, he's not up to anything, other than encouraging more participation by the local Bar members in choosing candidates. As it stands, most Bar Association members delegate that responsibility to its Judiciary Committee, which requests applications from candidates, interviews them, possibly asks their permission to check out their grievance records, and ultimately passes on them Nero-style over the summer as being well-qualified, qualified, or not qualified.  The latter is generally the kiss of death, especially for a non-incumbent.  I've heard complaints over the years about how this process is very closed, very old-boy oriented, and very lacking in any real recourse if they ding you.  Personally, I'd prefer a larger body of regular practitioners having more access to both the information about the candidates and the final choice about who to put on the November ballot.

I also shared my letter, prior to publication, with another friend who is a lower-level party chairman. That friend was receptive, and liked how the piece was written, but also encouraged me to try to effect change from within rather than by being a curmudgeon.

Good luck with that, after all these years.


So as of now, the letter's only been seen online. The paper copies will begin hitting member mailboxes probably starting tomorrow. Making it all even weirder is that I attended a Bar Association seminar this afternoon titled "Everything You Need to Know About Becoming a Judge." Not because I want to (at least not in the system I've been complaining about), but to hear what they had to say about the process, and how they felt about encouraging more general attorney participation in it.  In what may have been a first, the speakers included all three of the Dear Leader Party Chairmen who, in this county at least, among them control probably 99.9 percent of the judicial convention nominations.  None really addressed the openness of the convention process, although all of them spoke at length about being team players for their parties and building up name recognition and campaign treasuries, since State Supreme candidates can expect to have to spend mid six figures, lots of it their own money, to have a prayer of being elected. (One of them outright insulted close to half the audience by saying, in substance, "Face it- these elections are largely beauty contests, which is why we like giving women our endorsements." On behalf of ugly old men in the audience, I resembled that remark:P)

After they spoke, I introduced myself to my own party chairman (not the one who made the sexist crack) as the elephant in the room, and told him I'd just gotten my letter published. He hadn't seen it yet, he said. He'd be happy to talk to me about my concerns, he said.

Give me a week for the hate mail and hang-up calls to arrive, or not, and I'll tell you about whether I'm ready to take him up on that.


On the bright side, I did find out from another speaker that the state's Commission on Judicial Conduct takes complaints very seriously in races for judgeships. They generally fall into three categories: petition faking, financial violations, and impermissible remarks during campaigns.  After they spoke, I asked him how they felt about situations like we saw last year in a lower court race, when two candiates were seeking all of the party nominations in the September primaries and the endorsed Democrat was basically libeled by a supporter of the endorsed Republican. Would his committee consider a complaint where the offensive mailing came from an allegedly "independent" "Republican" "club" and not from the actual candidate?

His answer? Absolutely they would consider it. And if they could prove coordination between the candidate and the supporter, and if the candidate won (which in this case she didn't), they absolutely had the authority to kick her (in this case) out of office.

So at least we've got that going for democracy, which is nice.

This entry was originally posted at http://captainsblog.dreamwidth.org/206818.html. Please comment here, or there using OpenID.
2 comments or Leave a comment
xiphias From: xiphias Date: May 2nd, 2014 02:17 pm (UTC) (Link)
I gotta say: the reason I can't get too worked up about this is that it's for elected judgeships anyway. I think that elected judgeships are a terrible idea in the first place.

So the process of electing judgeships is unfair. So what? ELECTING judges in the first place is unwise. So they're doing an unwise thing unfairly.

Hell, it may be that the unfair, undemocratic way they're doing it helps reduce the awfulness of it. Judges are supposed to be one of the checks on unfettered democracy: they're supposed to part of the system that protects the kinds of human rights that aren't supposed to be vote-upon-able.

So the fact that this reduces the democracy of a process that oughtn't be democratic in the first place seems like a mitigation of an existing problem even more than it's a problem on its own.
captainsblog From: captainsblog Date: May 2nd, 2014 11:09 pm (UTC) (Link)
The final panel at this seminar was about a couple of appointed positions- one state (the court that hears claims against the state itself) and a couple of federal District Court gigs. While the process overall sounds much more streamlined and less expensive, there is just as much political BS involved in it, just concentrated on small numbers of nominators versus larger numbers of voters. The Chief Judge of our District said we've had a district judgeship eligible to be filled since 1992, but Congressional wrangling has kept it from being filled. Ironically, he is moving to senior judge status next spring, and that will create the necessary "opening" to get a new warm body on the bench. But between filibusters and "blue slips" and other crap, the appointment route is no better.

What I'd love to see is an elected office procedure, but one in which established parties are prohibited from participating in at all. Let the judicial candidates run on their own merits, and records, without party officials picking them, contributing to them, indirectly soliciting support from them. If it's apolitical, make it so.
2 comments or Leave a comment