At the Capitol / Chief justice warns: 'Storm is coming' in electing state judges
If Minnesotans want to prevent special interests from buying seats on the state's courts, they must overhaul the way they select judges, Chief Justice Eric Magnuson of the Minnesota Supreme Court told a legislative committee Thursday.
Interest groups are spending millions to influence the outcomes of judicial elections in other states, Magnuson said, and unless Minnesota changes its system, it's only a matter of time before big-buck, partisan court campaigns pop up here.
"The storm is coming," he warned.
Magnuson testified at a House governmental operations committee hearing in support of a state constitutional amendment that would create "retention elections" for judges.
In those elections, voters decide whether to retain or fire sitting judges. No other candidates would appear on the ballot.
Under the current system, the only way to unseat a judge is for a challenger to defeat the judge in an election. But 95 percent of judges run unopposed, so there's little serious competition, said Rep. Steve Simon, a St. Louis Park DFLer and chief House sponsor of the retention election bill.
The committee approved the bill on a 14-4 vote, clearing its first hurdle. Two Senate committees approved a companion bill last year, and it could quickly move to the floor this year if DFL leaders decide to put the issue on the ballot this fall. Simon said he is "cautiously optimistic" that the Legislature will approve it.
In addition to creating retention elections, the bill would establish an independent "judicial performance commission" that would measure judges' records and report its findings to voters before elections.
The governor still would appoint judges to vacant seats on the bench.
The legislation was prompted by a 2005 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that threw out a Minnesota law that restricted how much money judicial candidates could raise, barred them from seeking partisan endorsements and prohibited them from taking positions on disputed issues likely to come before the court. Now candidates can do all those things.
That has opened the door for wealthy special interests to spend huge sums to influence judicial elections, former state Supreme Court Chief Justice Kathleen Blatz told the committee
"Special interests do not support a particular judge because he or she will be fair and impartial. They support judges who agree with their particular agenda. They want partial judges," Blatz said.
"The public has a right to have their cases heard by ... fair and impartial judges, not judges who have already weighed in on one side."
But attorney Greg Wersal, the plaintiff in the 2005 U.S. Supreme Court decision and a candidate for the state high court, said campaign spending is not a problem in Minnesota judicial elections and doesn't need to be fixed.
Moreover, he said, the proposed judicial performance commission would be barred from criticizing a judge's rulings.
Challengers are needed to inform the public about judges' failings, Wersal said.
St. Paul, MinnesotaSEIZE AND DESIST:
PS. SEN. MEE MOUA CHAIR JUDICIARY ALSO A LICENSED LAWYER:Agree with Greg Wersal, Thanks for Fighting and speaking out Search Engines pick up immediately
Letter to Chris Baker this morning Talk Show Morning Chris Baker
100.3 KTLK-FM, 100.3 K-TALK Minneapolis/St. Paul
re: Election of Judges
You should have Wersal on for opposing side
1974 Affiant Sharon Scarrella ran for Sup.Crt.Justice We were DENIED as we were not Liars or Lawyers........Published with Malice In re Scarrella for Assoc.Justice 221NW2nd562, without Affiants Permission and without Royalities of Published "Bad Case Law" circumvention of the Separation of Powers
36 yrs later MN Chief Justice Eric Magnuson who was Sheran's clerk at that time is now..........Promoting the Franchise of Licensed Lawyers to Deny the Public and Taxpayers the "jobs of judges"
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