The $$ Behind The Defeat Of Democratic Judicial Elections In Kansas
February 2, 2009
Surprise! Judges in Johnson County, KS and the lawyers expecting to have business before them in court wrote most of the checks to defeat a ballot initiative that would have restored democratic judicial elections and ended the practice of having judges selected by a committee controlled by lawyers. The news comes to us thanks to some terrific investigative work by two Kansas blogs – Kansas Meadowlark and Kansas Liberty. (Hat tip to dirtdiver.com for alerting me to these posts.)
Proponents of “merit” selection outspent supporters of democratic elections by more than 3:1 to defeat Question No. 1 on the November ballot. A review of the campaign financial records by E.F. Glynn reveals some interesting facts:
- “All 25 JoCo [Johnson County] District Court Judges and Magistrates, including several senior judges, contributed to keep their jobs unchanged. Instead of ‘recusing’ themselves … these Judges gave a total of about $32,600” to defeat democratic elections.
- “Missouri law firms and other out-of-state interests gave more than $87,300” to keep the current system.
- “Kansas law firms and other in-state contributors (excluding the judges) only gave about $55,000 to keep the current system.”
“Why do we see such a large Missouri influence on Johnson County and Kansas” courts, Glynn asks? Good question.
The most likely answer is that judges and the lawyers who argue before them prefer to keep judicial selection an insider-only game, rather involving the grubby masses.
Doug Johnson, a former member of the Johnson County’s judicial nominating commission, ran the effort to defeat the “merit” selection system he saw up close and personal. He says judges chosen by secret committee aren’t really interested in having to explain their views to the voters who must live with their decisions.
“The way the current system is, judges and lawyers are in cohoots. They’re beholden to each other – not to the people.”
Attorney Greg Musil, who worked to defeat democratic elections, says there’s nothing wrong with judges spending tens of thousands of dollars to keep themselves insulated from the voters they serve.
“Judges don’t give up their citizenship rights – they have the same right to make political contributions as anyone else.”
Musil is right of course – and the same goes for the law firms that spent heavily to keep the clubby status quo. But doesn’t every citizen have that same right? Isn’t the entire premise behind “merit” selection the notion that citizens and groups who exercise this “right” are threatening the independence of the judiciary and politicizing the courts?
And doesn’t “merit” selection end up abolishing the “right” of citizens and groups from contributing to judicial candidates of their choosing?
Opponents of democratic judicial elections chalk up their win on Question No. 1 as an endorsement of good government and a non-partisan judiciary. Now we know it was really just a victory for old-fashioned hardball politics, with a healthy dose of conflict-of-interest thrown in.