State House votes to narrow influence of lawyers on the nominating board

Monday, April 14, 2008 | 10:58 p.m. CDT; updated 8:21 a.m. CDT, Monday, July 21, 2008

JEFFERSON CITY — The Missouri House on Monday gave first-round approval to legislation targeting the influence of lawyers in the judicial nominating process along a nearly party-line vote.

The resolution would give Missourians the option to vote on limiting the number of lawyers on the board that nominates judicial candidates to the governor and would make public the list of candidates recommended to the governor.

Missouri’s judicial appointment process has been targeted by groups such as Better Courts for Missouri, a nonprofit organization that monitors the state’s judicial selection method. It was also criticized by Gov. Matt Blunt last year in a speech given to the conservative legal group Federalist Society in Kansas City, according to the group’s Web site.

The sponsor of the resolution, Rep. Stanley Cox, R-Sedalia, said the nominating system should be more open to the public. Cox also said the process is dominated by lawyers rather than the will of the people, which he said makes for an activist judiciary.

“Lawyers don’t have a monopoly on smarts and who makes a good judge,” Cox said.

Fierce opposition emanated from leaders within the Democratic House ranks, including the Democratic Floor Leader, Rep. Paul LeVota, D-Jackson County, and attorney general candidate and Columbia representative Jeff Harris.

Harris accused Missouri’s “extreme right” of attempting to subvert the judicial nominating process and dominate the state’s judicial branch.

Harris said he takes pride in the state’s judicial nominating process and accused the bill’s supporters of attempting to politicize the Missouri Plan, the state’s nonpartisan judicial appointment process.

The resolution is now past the amendment stage and will have to undergo a final vote in the House to be fully passed.

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