I wrote about the new initiative yesterday from opponents of the Non-Partisan Court Plan for Missouri Lawyer Media. If approved by voters, the constitutional amendment would require direct elections for Missouri Supreme Court judges, state appeals court judges and judges presiding around St. Louis, Kansas City and Springfield.
The proposal is not likely to allay critics of changing the plan. Chip Robertson, an attorney who served as a Missouri Supreme Court judge, pointed to a West Virginia case involving a Supreme Court judge who was put on the bench through a direct election.
In that case, a judge named Brent Benjamin was elected to the West Virginia Supreme Court. His election was aided with a $3 million donation to an outside group from the CEO of a coal company. When that company had litigation before the court, Benjamin decided not to remove himself from the case. His vote ended up swaying the decision in the company's favor.
In a 5-4 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court decided to send the case back to the West Virginia Supreme Court. In writing for the majority, Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote:
In response, ShowMe Better Courts executive director James Harris said by Robertson's logic, governors and lawmakers could be "bought off." He pointed to a study that he said showcased the benefits of judicial elections.
"The only people who are going to oppose direct democracy are the wealthy lawyers who defend the current process," Harris said. "So we welcome wholeheartedly a discussion on either one of these."
Most of county judges in Missouri, by the way, are elected.
The group's other initiative - which would replace the current system with one that in part resembles the federal model of judicial selection - is currently being litigated in court.
The aforementioned case was the inspiration for The Appeal, a book written by John Grisham.