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Tuesday, April 8, 2008

A matter of retention

Nick Coleman has a column about the recent knock-down, drag-out election wrangling that occurred over a seat on the Wisconsin Supreme Court. ("Dead fish may be stinky, but this judge's race smells worse.") As we blogged before, the ugly race in our sister state has become the poster child for judicial-election reform here.

Coleman correctly points out in his column that the Legislature appears poised not to act on the reform issue this session. Even if, mirabile visu, lawmakers did vote in favor of the Quie Commission's proposal to switch to retention elections for judges, the change could not possibly occur in time for the upcoming judicial elections.

While bar leaders do their best to present the image of a unified bar supporting the retention route,a group of trial court judges have steadfastly declined to join in the tea party. For example, in a highly unusual move, four trial court judges from four different counties recently sent a joint letter to the editor to Minnesota Lawyer opposing retention elections. (The letter was published late last month.) Here are a couple of excerpts:

The proposed retention-election system puts both the selection and retention of sitting judges in the hands of a very small, elite group, appointed by only two people — the governor and the chief justice of our Supreme Court. Citizens should remain justly suspicious of power exercised by a few. ...

Minnesotans and our governors together have demonstrated, time and time again, their ability to choose responsibly those who hold judicial office. That right should not be compromised by a system that does not address the very concerns of all who wish to preserve a fair and impartial judiciary.
In fact, the retention-election proposal remains fairly unpopular among many of the state's trial court bench. If the bar truly wants to present a unified picture to the Legislature, it's going to have to find a way to sell the plan better to those judges. Right now, the only thing a lot of them appear interested in retaining is their opposition to retention elections.

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