Joe Doakes from Como Park emails:
The President of the State Bar Association explains the drive to change how judgeships are filled:
“ . . . formalize our current informal practice of filling vacancies by gubernatorial appointment, rather than by election; implement a merit-selection process for judges at all levels of the judiciary; create an evaluation process where a commission comprising both lawyers and nonlawyers will assess judges’ performance based on objective criteria, and publicize these evaluations to the public; and require judges to take part in retention elections rather than participate in “contested” races that, in reality, are rarely contested and involve voters who often have little to no information about the judges whose names appear on the ballot.”
Right now, vacant judgeships are filled by election except when an untimely vacancy occurs, then the Governor appoints judges recommended by the Judicial Selection Commission. The Commission members are listed here and you can draw your own conclusions about whether they are likely to recommend Liberal candidates and whether a Democrat governor will select a Liberal candidate. Giving the Governor power to appoint all judges means control of the judiciary is removed one more step away from the people they’re supposed to serve, one more step toward total DFL control over all three branches of government.
The Commission is required to evaluate candidates based on the criteria in Subd. 8 of the statute. These criteria are not merit-based, they are almost entirely worthless. Only three of these criteria can be measured: are you a women, are you a minority and how many trials have you had? All the other criteria are so subjective the Commission doesn’t dare rely on them for fear of being labeled sexist, racist or part of the Old Boy Network. So basically, the best qualified candidates under the statutory criteria are the ones who have tried the most cases.
But counting trials is a lousy way to select judges. It’s a shoddy lawyer that takes every case to trial; real skill lies in negotiating an out-of-court settlement that satisfies all parties. The only lawyers who can afford to indulge in trying cases are prosecutors, public defenders and insurance defense lawyers, which explains why the trial bench and now the Court of Appeals is loaded with judges who have no experience in the wider practice of law such as family law and real estate law. That, in turn, explains some of the bizarre opinions issued by the Court of Appeals in recent years. It’s not that judges are howling idiots, they just don’t know any better.
Appointing judges who don’t know the law is bad enough. Expecting citizens to mount campaigns to remove those judges is worse. Far from institutionalizing excellence, we’ll be insulating mediocrities from any prospect of accountability. So – perfect for the DFL. Rotten for everyone else.
if there’s one thing the conservative side of the aisle has done very badly, it is explain why their constant fussing about judicial elections actually matters.
So I think Joe has done a great public service, here, today.