Blame the Judge, Not the System
February 27, 2013
The conviction of Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice Joan Orie Melvin on six counts of public corruption has unleashed a torrent of criticism. Not of Justice Melvin, but of the system of democratic elections that elevated her to the bench. Retired Superior Court Judge Phyllis W. Beck sums up this view: “When a Supreme Court justice is convicted of misusing court resources for her judicial campaigns, something is fundamentally wrong with the system. After all, this could only happen in a system where we elect our judges.”
Actually, cases of public corruption occur wherever there are public servants, regardless of how they are selected. In the past, I’ve pointed to examples of ethically challenged judges chosen under “merit” selection in Florida, New Mexico, and Missouri. The simple truth is, no judicial selection system has been found that puts only angels on the bench.
Judge Beck traces the problem with elections to the fact that “most of the [campaign] money comes from lawyers and potential litigants who might appear before [judges].” But her solution – putting these very same elite lawyers in a the proverbial smoke-filled room and letting them pick judges outside public scrutiny or accountability – is hardly a way to reduce the influence of lawyers in the selection process.
When it comes to cases of corruption or abuse of power, it’s time to stop blaming the system and start blaming the judge.