GUEST COMMENTARY: No need to change the Missouri Court Plan

Wednesday, June 2, 2010 | 10:15 a.m. CDT; updated 11:49 a.m. CDT, Wednesday, June 2, 2010

I grow weary of James Harris and his insulting attempts to mislead the public regarding changes to the Non-Partisan Court Plan.

I am a proud member of the Missouri Association of Trial Attorneys, and I have yet to see a hint of evidence from Mr. Harris or his still-undisclosed donors that corruption exists on any level in the state and judicial system since the adoption of the Missouri Plan in 1940. The Missouri Plan, by the way, was crafted with the assistance of Rush Limbaugh Sr., hardly a liberal.

Mr. Harris seeks to change the plan, he claims, to give voters a say in the judicial system. It is ironic then that the very verdicts Mr. Harris maligns are those delivered by juries made up of — wait for it — voters. In fact, it's ludicrous of Mr. Harris to allege he merely seeks to protect the right of the voters when the outcome of all his machinations would minimize the protections currently afforded all citizens — rich and poor alike — by having access to the judicial system.

It's clear that Mr. Harris wants to change the plan simply to benefit his big-money backers who'd prefer never to face those they've harmed in court, but our current system is as fair as they come. Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, a Reagan appointee, in her recent New York Times op-ed piece "Take Justice Off the Ballot" cautioned against allowing campaign cash to buy judicial seats, wisely pointing out that, "When you enter one of these courtrooms, the last thing you want to worry about is whether the judge is more accountable to a campaign contributor or an ideological group than the law."

The Judicial Commission that sends nominations to the governor is composed of citizens and lawyers working together. The laypeople on the commission judge the candidates on their personal characteristics and the civic experience they bring to the bench; the lawyers evaluate them on their professional strengths and legal analysis skills; and citizens vote on retention.

Thankfully, it now appears Missourians have rejected Harris' attempts to inject money and partisan politics into the judiciary, as he failed to even get enough signatures to place the issue on the ballot, despite having spent over $1.5 million on his petition drive alone.

Scott Wilson is an attorney with The Hines Law Firm in Columbia.

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Cecil Caulkins June 2, 2010 | 12:39 p.m.

One the funniest complaints is that the judicial nominating commission never gives the governor acceptable choices. Let's remember that conservative Republican governor John Ashcroft got to appoint all seven judges of the Supreme Court during his two terms, and six of them were definitely Republicans (I don't know what Judge Thomas's politics were). Governor Ashcroft even got to appoint Chip Robertson, who was on Ashcroft's staff when he got appointed. This whole effort would be funny if it weren't so pathetic.

(Report Comment)
Earl Smith June 2, 2010 | 2:20 p.m.

That Wilson character needs a new picture. What's it been -- 10 years since that one was taken?

(Report Comment)
Anthony Johnson June 2, 2010 | 2:49 p.m.

Courts need to be above the whims of public opinion. Many civil rights decisions would have been adjudicated differently if the voting public were able to elect judges. Partisan elections will simply allow big money and special interests to dominate yet another branch of government.

(Report Comment)

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