Blunt names two to judicial screening panels

Saturday, January 3, 2009 | 9:23 p.m. CST

SPRINGFIELD — Two opponents of Missouri's "nonpartisan" method of appointing some judges will serve on panels that play a crucial role in those appointments.

Springfield resident Sally Hargis has been chosen by Gov. Matt Blunt to serve on a five-member commission that will screen applicants for Greene County Circuit Court seats and nominate finalists to the governor's office.

John Gentry, also of Springfield, was picked by Blunt for a seven-member commission that nominates candidates for the Missouri Court of Appeals and the Missouri Supreme Court.

The panel appointments were announced Friday. Hargis is vice president of Ozarks Coca-Cola/Dr Pepper Bottling Co., and Gentry is president of Positronic Industries.

Like Blunt, who is also from Springfield, Hargis and Gentry are strong critics of the Missouri Nonpartisan Court Plan — the state's widely copied process for selecting judges for appellate courts and some trial courts.

Created as an alternative to partisan elections, the plan puts commissions made up of lawyers, non-lawyers and judges in charge of screening applicants for judgeships and nominating slates of finalists to the governor. The governor makes the final appointment.

Greene County voters approved adoption of the plan for their circuit court in November, joining Jackson, Clay, Platte and St. Louis counties and the city of St. Louis.

Gentry's company donated $10,000 and Hargis's company donated $2,500 to a committee that campaigned against the measure in Greene County. After its approval, however, Hargis and Gentry both applied to serve on the Green County nominating commission.

"Missourians and Greene Countians should be able to select their judges," Hargis said Friday.

Gentry said he initially applied for a spot on the Greene County selection commission, but reconsidered after receiving a call from Blunt.

"He asked if I'd be interested in the appellate judicial commission instead of Greene County," Gentry said. "I am doing it because I believe I can make a difference. I have some very strong feelings about this issue."

He said among those feelings is a suspicion that the "deck is stacked" in favor of liberal candidates in Missouri Plan selection.

That argument is common among opponents of merit selection, who say the presence of attorneys on selection commissions produces left-leaning nominees.

"I still don't believe the process is nonpartisan," Gentry said. "I guess we'll see."


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