Cleaning up the courts via judicial merit selection?

Here’s the scoop on Oklahoma’s judicial selection scheme from the American Judicature Society:

In Oklahoma judges were originally chosen in partisan elections. The impetus for change came in the mid-1960s, when one Oklahoma Supreme Court justice was convicted on bribery charges and another was impeached and removed from office. A third justice was already serving time in federal prison for income tax evasion. Described by one journalist as “one of the blackest marks ever on state government,” these events led to two constitutional amendments aimed at insulating judicial selection from direct partisan politics. Elections for district court judges were changed from partisan to nonpartisan contests, and merit selection was adopted for appellate court judges and to fill interim vacancies on the district court.

Obviously taking the vote from the grubby hands of the electorate worked out splendidly. Donald Thompson is a case in point:

Donald Thompson, 64, a former Oklahoma judge convicted in 2006 on felony indecent exposure counts for using a sexual device known as a penis pump while presiding over trials in his court — for which he served 20 months of a four-year prison term — has been arrested again. This time he faces felony drug and alcohol charges.

Thompson faces six charges, including three felonies — driving under the influence, possession of a controlled substance without a prescription after a former felony conviction and possession of a controlled dangerous substance after a former felony conviction. To add insult to injury, Thompson was driving on an expired temporary license.

A Special District Judge has set Thompson’s bail at $76,500.

In 2009, he was convicted inTulsaCounty of actual physical control of a vehicle while under the influence. In June 2011, Thompson was also charged with stalking a woman known to be his ex-girlfriend. A court hearing on that charge is scheduled for Aug. 9.

After being disbarred, he was charged with a string of other offenses including driving under the influence.

Tulsa World has additional coverage on this meritorious merit selection judge. Seeing Red AZ has previously covered the stealth political process here.

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9 Responses to Cleaning up the courts via judicial merit selection?

  1. Villanova says:

    Merit selection is a feel good process intended to pull the wool over the eyes of voters. It allows them to think they actually have a say in the process, when in fact, they have none. A commission made of of appointed partisans does not represent the citizens. It does, in fact, represents the state bar, doing the bidding of powerful insiders. That is certainly the case here in Arizona.

    • Pinal Voter says:

      Villanova,
      I live in Pinal County. We elect our judges here. It’s a good system. Our judges are ethical and answerable, which is what I imagine those insiders you mentioned don’t like.

  2. Sgt. Preston says:

    It sounds as though the “merit” appointed judges in Oklahoma are no better than the crooks and thieves this system sought to replace.

  3. Seen It All says:

    This tells what the legal community thinks of voters selecting their own judges:
    “The empirical evidence does suggest that voters generally do not possess the knowledge required for the intelligent selection of judges.”
    I think we could do at least as good as Judge Thompson!

    [72] See, e.g., Anthony Champagne, Judicial Reform in Texas, 72 JUDICATURE 146, 151 (1988); Champagne, supra note 46, at 93-95; Marie Hojnacki & Lawrence Baum, Choosing Judicial Candidates: How Voters Explain Their Decisions, 75 JUDICATURE 300, 300 (1992); Nicholas P. Lovrich et al., Citizen Knowledge and Voting in Judicial Elections, 73 JUDICATURE 28, 28-29 (1989); Volcansek, supra note 4, at 80. A poll conducted in Oklahoma in 1966 disclosed that 74% of those asked could not name any of the six candidates for the supreme court. Oklahoma Poll Shows Court Voters in the Dark, 50 JUDICATURE 134, 134 (1966). A poll conducted in Pennsylvania “in 1983 revealed that ‘fewer than one in ten voters knew the names of any appellate court candidates before going to the polls’ and ‘the vast majority of voters—more than 90%—spent little or no time studying the qualifications and background of appellate court candidates.’ ” Dunn, supra note 49, at 125 (footnote omitted).

    • LD 7 PC says:

      Absolutely!! The judicial “retention” system on the ballot is also a joke. Not a single judge has been removed in decades. It’s just another layer of the facade they point to to make us think we the people have a say in the process. Don’t be fooled. WE DON’T!!

      • garvan says:

        The reason bad judges do not get removed at election time is that most everyone is focusing on the other offices, i.e. governor, senator, etc.
        Here’s a suggestion for citizens of good will: identify at least one rogue judge TODAY. Then start a drumbeat TODAY to get rid of him/her. Set up a committee. Start a letter-to-the-editor campaign. Print up bumperstickers demanding his ouster. Call in to all the talk shows.
        Don’t let these tyrants who wear black dresses at work fall through the cracks any more! Zero in on them NOW.

  4. Army Of One says:

    Let’s not allow the establishment elites to do our thinking for us. And certainly fight this concept of them casting votes on our behalf, because we’re just not as brilliant as they are — or so they think.

    Were those brave men who fought for our freedom with muskets mostly professors or farmers? I think you know.

  5. Night Owl says:

    garvan:
    How exactly do you propose that judges are judged good or bad? If you don’t like their rulings but they follow the letter of the law, are they bad judges? How much credit do you give to jurors in cases where the outcome doesn’t meet your expectations? The Casey Anthony case might be a good example.

    I’m not trying to be contentious, but this is not quite as simple as it sounds. Who do you consider to be a rogue judge? Can’t think of one? How about a rogue judge in the past five years? The problem is, you have nothing of substance upon which to make your ‘recommendations.” How many talk shows do you think you’d get through on with slim allegations? Do you really think the newspaper will print unsubstantiated opinions that amount to libel? Bumper stickers are only effective if they are concise. What would yours say: “Judge Jones is a Jerk?”

    Methinks you need to do better than this. Best suggestion is to get rid of merit selection. Unfortunately, the state bar would fight it with costly ad campaigns and those of us who would like to see this flawed system die, can’t compete. Trying to remove a constitutional amendment voted in by the people as unknowledgeable as they might have been on this issue, is like spitting in the wind.

  6. garvan says:

    Reasonable question, Night Owl.
    The prime characteristic of a rogue judge is one who legislates from the bench. Here are just three examples:

    1) in 1994 California voters approved Proposition 187 which prohibited giving tax-paid benefits to illegal aliens. More than 5 million voted in favor of it.
    A Jimmy Carter appointee — Mariana Pfaelzer — overturned it with a stroke of her pen.

    2) More recently, in 2010, Oklahoma voters passed “State Question 755 by a 70-30 margin. It held that neither Sharia law nor “international law” could be used in Oklahoma courts.
    With a flick of her Bic, judge Vicki Miles-Legrange overturned it.

    3) Kansas City voters turned down a school property tax increase measure on their ballot by a wide margin. Judge Russell Clark overturned it, and ordered the property tax rate increased from $2.05 per $100 of assessed valuation to $4.96 per $100.

    These are rogue judges, and “jurists” like them need to be gotten rid of.