More “Merit” Selection Judges Behaving Badly
January 9, 2012
Last week, Shira Goodman over at Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts – a charter member of the $45 million+ George Soros campaign to end democratic selection of judges – suggested that the ethical transgression of one Philadelphia Traffic Court judge represented an indictment of judicial elections. This has become a favorite meme of the “merit” selection crowd – but as recent judicial scandals in New Mexico and Missouri demonstrate, judges chosen under secret selection hardly have a monopoly on virtue.
To satisfy myself that I wasn’t being too hasty, I spent about 30 seconds on a Google search this weekend and came up with a few more examples of “merit” selection judges behaving badly. In Maryland, the award goes to Judge Richard Palumbo, who dismissed a protective order against a man who later doused his wife with gasoline and set her on fire. A few months earlier, when the wife appeared before Judge Palumbo and said she wanted an immediate divorce, Palumbo shot back, “I’d like to be 6-foot-5.” A state Senator later accused Judge Palumbo of having an “anti-victim, anti-woman attitude.” Obviously a judge chosen strictly by “merit.”
In Florida, Judge Paul Hawkes resigned last November over charges related to his role in constructing a new $50 million courthouse locals refer to as the “Taj Mahal.” According to news reports, Judge Hawkes “pushed for mahogany walls, granite countertops, and 60-inch television screens in every office.” Hawkes was accused of “destroying public records pertaining to the court’s budget” and browbeating a “furniture vendor” into “underwrit[ing] a trip for Hawkes and two relatives.” Since the Florida judicial nominating commission meets in secret, I guess we’ll never know what “merit” commissioners saw in Judge Hawkes.
I’m not claiming that all judges chosen under “merit” selection are ethically challenged. That would be Shira Goodman-style demagoguery. Instead, I think there are two conclusions any fair-minded observer could draw:
1) Judges are human and prone to the same temptations to abuse power faced by every public servant;
2) We need strong mechanisms to keep judges accountable.
The primary objective of democratic judicial elections is to provide that accountability; the primary objective of “merit” selection is to destroy it.