Our judicial mess
by The Anniston Star Editorial Board
Sep 17, 2010 | 3117 views |  1 comments | 11 11 recommendations | email to a friend | print
What do Democrats and Republicans agree on? Not much. But in one area the agreement is striking.

A recent nationwide poll showed that Americans of both parties overwhelmingly want special-interest money and partisan politics to stay out of U.S. court systems. The Harris Interactive poll was commissioned by Justice at Work, a judicial watchdog group.

Consider: Approximately 71 percent of Democrats and 70 percent of Republicans nationwide who were polled said they believe campaign donations influence judicial decisions.

Approximately 82 percent of Republicans and 79 percent of Democrats said judges should recuse themselves from cases involving donors who contribute more than $10,000 to their campaigns.

And 88 percent of Republicans and 86 percent of Democrats call for more transparency in disclosing donors and what they contribute to judicial candidates.

These sentiments were especially strong here in the South, where those polled made it clear that they did not want justice bought.

Well, here in Alabama, politicians seem to like the system just the way it is.

They seem to be happy that this state has become an extreme example for special-interest spending on judicial races.

They seem to be happy with a system where nearly one-third of the money contributed to Democrat Deborah Bell Paseur in her 2008 Alabama Supreme Court race came from a single source, the state Democratic Party.

They seem to think it is OK for Paseur to have a single law firm filter more than $600,000 of that money through 30 different PACs so it would be difficult for voters to know who was buying what from whom.

Alabama politicians seem happy with this because if they weren’t, they would change it.

Today, Alabama is one of only seven states where judges are chosen in partisan elections. Fourteen states hold nonpartisan contests, and 24 states use an appointment-retention system under which a committee appoints judges. After they serve their first term, voters can choose to retain or remove them.

In the past, Alabama Chief Justice Sue Bell Cobb and the Alabama Bar Association have submitted bills to the state Legislature that would phase in an appointment-retention system. Those bills failed.

In Alabama, this is what passes for representative government.
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