Archive for Wednesday, September 6, 2000

Judicial selection process

September 6, 2000

The proposal to revert to the election of judges in Leavenworth and Atchison counties flies in the face of accepted truths about our democratic system. These truths include the concepts of an independent and impartial judiciary, a judiciary free of improper political influence and a judiciary selected on merit with evaluation standards for judges.

Judicial independence means that judges will decide disputes free from the influence of overzealous public officials or special interests. Respect for our judicial system, even when controversial decisions must be made by a court, are based upon the public faith that the outcomes of cases are not rigged. Under the existing nonpartisan merit selection system, political parties, special interest groups and inexperienced and unqualified candidates have no influence. Can you imagine an election system where business groups, law firms and other special interest groups fill the campaign coffers of political candidates for judge? What public confidence would there be in such a system?

The present merit selection reasonably assures that judicial positions will be filled by persons who are qualified and remain qualified. The recently completed Kansas Justice Initiative, a comprehensive study of the states judicial system, concluded that merit selection and retention, along with periodic evaluation of sitting judges was the best way to preserve independence and integrity of the judicial system in Kansas. Curiously, just as this election proposal is being made, a committee of the Leavenworth Bar is studying a judicial evaluation plan to present objective performance data about sitting judges to the electorate. In the political referendum that voters will be asked to approve, it is only the declarations of the candidates themselves, burdened with the weight of political contributions and their own campaign promises, that will educate the voters. Which method seems the more likely to select qualified judges?

Election proponents attack the merit system for having selected recent judges from Atchison County. Those disappointed with having to answer to independent Atchison judges ought to be advancing the proposition of a single county judicial district for Leavenworth County.

Voters should be suspect of an election system that allows political parties, special interest groups, groups of special interest lawyers and simply those that are well-heeled to influence the selection of judges who would then be beholden to them.

John Tillotson,

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