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.
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.
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.
Many states have established “problem-solving courts” over the last two decades. These are specialized courts whose mission goes beyond the standard determination of guilt and punishment, and instead seeks to address the causes underlying problematic behaviors. Across the country, problem-solving courts have been established to deal with (among other things) drug offenses, mental health issues, sex offenses, truancy, and gun violence.
The State of Delaware has recently undertaken its first internal evaluation of its problem-solving courts, and is now looking to streamline and consolidate some of their work. In particular, the public report describing the evaluation recommends “a unified statewide treatment court.” Unifying the state’s problem-solving courts, the report suggested, would also allow the judiciary and court administrators to address treatment and training issues more efficiently.
As the state courts continues to expand their reach beyond a traditional, arms-length adjudicative role, these types of analyses will be all the more important. Delaware is said to be working with the National Center for State Courts and the National Association of Drug Court Professionals on this project, and hopefully the lessons gleaned from the project will work their way to other state court systems as well.
Nevada’s state courts have long allowed access to news cameras, provided that the footage is used for informational or educational purposes. Last week, the Nevada Supreme Court unanimously concluded that footage of a murder trial, which was recorded for a reality TV series about local prosecutors, fell within the “informational or educational” definition.
Used of the video was challenged by Michael Solid, whose murder trial was partially recorded by production company My Entertainment TV for use on “Las Vegas Law,” a cable reality show. Solid argued that the video footage had a commercial advertising purpose rather than an information or educational one. But the state supreme court rejected that argument, finding that “under the plain language” of the rule governing courtroom cameras, My Entertainment TV was a “news reporter.”
We previously reported on a federal civil rights lawsuit filed in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, by a local chapter of the NAACP, alleging that the state’s current at-large voting system for state judges disadvantages minority groups. The plaintiffs are seeking to replace the current system with a system of five single-member districts, one of which would be drawn to include a majority of African-American and other minority groups among its residents.
A bench trial began in mid-March, and both parties rested their cases on Friday. The Daily Comet, a local Louisiana newspaper, has a good wrap-up of the dramatic testimony on the final day. The decision now rests with U.S. District Judge James Brady, who has instructed both sides to file post-trial briefs by June 8. A decision is expected by August.
Roy Moore, the Alabama judge best known for his position on placing the Ten Commandments inside state courthouses, abruptly resigned his position as Chief Justice yesterday in order to run for the United States Senate. Moore’s resignation was essentially a technicality; he was suspended from his judgeship last year for a variety of ethics violations, and has not served on the state supreme court for months.
Moore is seeking the Senate seat currently held on an interim basis by former state attorney general Luther Strange. Strange was appointed to the seat vacated by Jeff Sessions upon his confirmation as U.S. Attorney General. In yet another twist, Strange was appointed by then-Governor Robert Bentley, who resigned in scandal just weeks ago.
Beyond the head-spinning number of scandals and vacancies, Moore’s decision to enter the race highlights a sometimes-overlooked aspect of judicial interdependence: many judges begin their careers as legislators, and many legislators begin their careers as judges.
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