Here in Missouri there is a movement afoot to change the way judges are chosen. Currently this is the way it works:
Judges who serve under this plan have been nominated by a judicial commission and then selected by the governor. After their first 12 months in office, non-partisan appointed judges must go before the voters in a retention election. Voters are asked whether each of these judges should be retained. To be retained, each judge must receive a majority vote. A similar retention election occurs at the end of each term of office, under the same guidelines and provisions. If a judge does not receive a majority of votes, his or her judicial office will become vacant at the end of its present term. The judicial commission will then nominate three candidates for the position and the governor will appoint one to fill the vacancy. The terms for appellate court judges are 12 years. Among trial judges, circuit judges serve six-year terms, while associate circuit judges have four-year terms.
The commission that selects nominees for appellate vacancies consists of a member of the Supreme Court of Missouri, three lawyers and three lay members. Commissions that select nominees for openings on the trial bench are made up of the chief judge of the court of appeals district in which the vacancy occurs, two lawyers and two lay members.
This has provided a model for thirty other states to follow. Unfortunately, conservative republicans in Missouri are unhappy with the current system because, they say, it promotes judicial activism and unfairly discriminates against conservatives. The republicans have finally succeeded in putting a human face on this issue. The face belongs to Claire Noland, who, republicans argue, has been subjected to an out of control judge engaging in judicial activism of the worst sort. Who is Claire Noland? From the St. Louis Post-Dispatch:
The family of Claire Noland, 46, a real estate broker and attorney, is well-known in GOP circles in southwestern Missouri.
Her father served 16 years in the Legislature, ending in 1976. Since then, he has run unsuccessfully for Congress several times. Her mother was a probate judge from 1971 to 1974.
So, Claire Noland is a politically connected republican. So what horrible thing happened to Claire. It must be pretty bad because on member (Jim Lembke) of the State House is so upset that he is trying to impeach the judge in the case. So what has Lembke’s panties in a wad?
Last summer, in a bitter court battle in Laclede County…Claire Noland, lost custody of three of her six children.
I don’t wish to minimize the pain that divorce and custody battles can bring, but is this really an example of judicial activism? Or sour grapes? It gets somewhat worse though, because there are still several outstanding issues to be resolved in the case, yet:
Lembke’s critics say he crossed the line by sending the judge a copy of his proposed resolution in December and suggesting she get off the case, in which some issues are still being decided. They note that tampering with a judicial proceeding is a felony. Lembke, however, says he simply sent Hutson a copy “as a courtesy.”
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