The worst justice money can buy
By By Bob martin, The Alabama Scene
A week before the election the two candidates for a single seat on the Alabama Supreme Court had raised and spent or had money spent on their behalf totaling over $5 million. The final tally won’t be known until February when the last spending reports are due.
The two candidates, Appeals Court Judge Greg Shaw of Montgomery and former District Judge Deborah Bell Paseur of Florence are both decent people who are qualified to be a justice on the court, but what they have had to raise and spend to be competitive is repugnant to the goal of fair and impartial justice.
This is not to say that either of them would not strive to be fair and impartial in their service, but the odor left by this taint of huge contributions renders a deep void in the perception of equal justice and fairness in matters before the state’s highest tribunal.
The $5 million they’ve already raised and spent keeps Alabama No. 1 in the Nation in the “attempting to buy justice.” category. Who are the culprits who want to subvert the perception of equal justice under the law in Alabama? It’s the same laundry list of partisans, PACS, lawyers of all stripes, business groups, and shadow organizations that have been doing it for decades.
Paseur, the Democrat, has raised and spent over $2.2 million in her campaign. Individual contributions, many funneled through the State Democratic Party and PACS have made up about three-fourths of Paseur’s funding.
Overall Shaw raised and spent about $1.6 million prior to five days before the election, with over 90 percent of his funding coming primarily from business and corporate PACS. However, an out-of-state shadow group called the Center for Individual Freedom spent another $1.3 million on behalf of his campaign.
This group, based just outside Washington, calls itself a “non profit” and “non partisan” organization, but its ads where just the opposite, praising Judge Shaw, the Republican, and scorching Judge Paseur, the Democrat in the closing days of the election. The group also promoted Judge Shaw on its web site at www.cfif.org.
A better way to select judges
For all the reasons above and more Alabama must find a better way to select judges. We are one of seven states which still select judges in partisan elections. What must we do?
A good start would be to make judicial selection non-partisan like municipal elections. From that point there are numerous merit selection models from which to select that work in other states.
My choice is a model which would be established to keep the people involved in the selection process. First, a judge would stand for office on a non-partisan ballot for an eight-year term. At the end of that term he/she would stand for what I call a “retention election. The question on the ballot would be “Should Judge Jane or Jim Smith be retained in office for another term?” If the voters said “no” then the position would be filled for two years by a judge selected by the governor from three names send to him by a local or state nominating commission. That nominating commission would be selected by judicial, legislative and executive officials. In the next general election, the position would be back up for election on a non-partisan ballot.
Should a judge for any reason leave office during a term, the local or state nominating commission would go through the same process to fill the remainder of the term. The nominating commission process is already used in about eight jurisdictions in the state for the filling of vacancies in judicial office.
You may have noticed that I would extend the elected term of a judge by two years. One reason for that is to encourage qualified lawyers to seek the positions and the other is that a part of my plan would place in law a provision for the voters to recall a judge under certain circumstances.
This was written before the election so I wish the best to all candidates who earned the trust of the voters.
Bob Martin is editor and publisher of The Montgomery Independent. E-mail him at: email@example.com