Several new federal judicial nominees have state court experience, and that’s great news

On Monday, the President nominated ten individuals for federal judgeships — five on the circuit courts of appeal, four on the district courts, and one on the U.S. Court of Claims.  Three of the ten (Joan Larsen of Michigan, David Stras of Minnesota, and David Nye of Idaho) currently sit on state courts — Larsen and Stras on their state supreme courts, and Nye on his state’s trial bench.

The value of state court experience for federal judges has not been discussed much, but it should be. An intimate knowledge of state law and state court operations is surprisingly useful for the federal bench. And appointing federal judges from the state courts has valuable ripple effects for the states as well. More after the jump.

Continue reading “Several new federal judicial nominees have state court experience, and that’s great news”

Imaginary president stumps for real judicial candidate

In advance of this month’s statewide judicial elections, actor Martin Sheen has appeared on YouTube and television, advocating for the reelection of Pennsylvania judge Joseph Cosgrove. That Sheen would support Cosgrove is not surprising: they are apparently old friends and political allies, and Cosgrove evidently represented Sheen for time when he was in private practice.

But the ads are not just an endorsement from Martin Sheen, the actor.  Sheen deliberately blurs the line between his real-life persona and that of Josiah Bartlet, the fictional president from “The West Wing.”  Here is the YouTube endorsement, featuring a “decree” signed by Bartlet.

Continue reading “Imaginary president stumps for real judicial candidate”

Philadelphia Bar sets out evaluation criteria for judicial candidates

Many states conduct periodic performance evaluations of their judges, either for internal education and improvement, or to educate voters in advance of judicial retention elections, or both.  No state formally evaluates judicial candidates along the same criteria — a process I have called prospective performance evaluation — but the task is so important that local and state bar associations sometimes undertake it themselves.

The Philadelphia Bar Association recently unveiled their new evaluation process for judicial candidates, and it is impressively thorough — much more than this local news report suggests.  The standards set forth by the Philly Bar are carefully done and well worth a review by voters and court observers alike.

Chicago judge resigns over traffic court service

I reported last week on Richard Cooke, a newly elected Cook County judge who refused to take his initial assignment at traffic court — a way station at which almost every new Chicago judge cuts his or her teeth.  Judge Cooke has now resigned his judgeship.

Courts, like most organizations, place certain requirements on membership.  The court system itself may not be able to choose its members (who are elected by the public), but it can — and sensibly does — seek to train and socialize them into the basics of organizational life.  For whatever reason, Judge Cooke tried to circumvent at least part of that socialization process, to the detriment of both him and the court system.

Judicial aspirants brown nose at Brooklyn Democratic fundraiser

Those who are truly concerned about money and politics* might take notice of this past weekend’s fundraiser for Jacob Gold, “the dean of Democratic District Leaders,” in Brooklyn. The fundraiser brought out “a small army of attorneys,” all of whom hoped to wow the party bosses and win one of a handful endorsements for the bench in the coming election.

I have previously noted the rather nauseating control that party bosses maintain over the selection of New York’s trial judges. Events like this offer little solace for the prospect of an impartial and independent judiciary. New Yorkers deserve much better.

* As opposed to those who simply and mindlessly rant about Citizens United.

Kansas weighs whether to shield the identity of jurors

Earlier this year, the Kansas District Judges Association proposed a bill that would shield the names of jurors from the public. The bill passed both houses of the Kansas legislature. But the Kansas Press Association challenged the bill before a final vote could be taken, arguing that the state courts had obligations of transparency, and that hiding the identity of jurors made it more difficult to hold the justice system accountable. The judges’ association agreed, and reached a compromise with the press association that would make jurors’ names and addresses available, but not other information about them. The changes are expected to be worked out in legislative conference committee.

This is a nice example of the courts and the press recognizing the difficulty of balancing individual privacy and public duty in the modern age, and working together to address the problem. There is no simple answer, and while a handful of states do shield the identity of jurors completely, the Kansas Press Association is correct that public obligations like jury duty require a degree of public accountability. If we want to maintain a public system of dispute resolution, every member of the public needs to take ownership of it in an appropriate way.