Groups working to oust judge

Missouri Bar president says the campaign hurts the judiciary.
Sunday, October 31, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 6:14 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Several interest groups and individuals are at odds with the Missouri Bar Association over whether to remove a federal court judge in Tuesday’s election.

It is the first time interest groups have campaigned against a Supreme Court judge based on his opinions, according to the Missouri Bar.

The opponents — including Missouri House Speaker Pro Tempore Rod Jetton, R-Marble Hill, the Missouri branch of the National Rifle Association, the Eagle Forum and Missourians Against Liberal Judges — recently launched a campaign against Supreme Court Judge Richard Teitelman, arguing that the judge’s record demonstrates support for gay marriage and opposition to the death penalty and tort reform.

“I’m afraid with this new makeup of the Court, and Teitelman’s appointment was the swing into that side of the camp, Missouri’s now the state for activism,” said Kerry Messer of the Missouri Family Network, one of the groups trying to remove Teitelman.

But the Missouri Bar Association —along with several major newspapers and attorneys, including editorials in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and Kansas City Star and former Bar President Mike Gunn — denounces the campaign, which it says is placing at risk the political independence of the courts.

The interest groups are “trying to weaken the judiciary by frightening the judges,” said Bar Association President Joe Whisler. “The sure message is, ‘If you write an opinion we don’t like, we’ll come after you next time.’ ”

In an anonymous Bar Association survey of 1,539 attorneys, 1,244 attorneys, or 80.8 percent of those polled, supported Teitelman’s retention.

And a review of the cases cited by the group shows that Teitelman’s opinions also involve points of law and precedent that are still being debated.

Concerning the death penalty, for instance, the U.S. Supreme Court recently heard arguments in a Missouri case that ruled capital punishment unconstitutional for those who were under 18 when committing a crime. The national court will decide whether a recent ruling that outlawed sentencing the mentally retarded to death should also apply to the juvenile death penalty.

Gov. Bob Holden appointed Teitelman to the Court in 2002. The Missouri Constitution requires that voters choose whether to retain a judge at the next general election after the judge has been in office one year. If retained, Teitelman would serve a 12-year term.

Because judges are prohibited from campaigning, neither Teitelman nor the Supreme Court can comment on the matter, Court representative Beth Riggert said.

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