Former Alabama Chief Justice Sue Bell Cobb throws her hat into Governor’s race

Sue Bell Cobb, who served as Chief Justice of Alabama from 2007 to 2011, announced last week that she is running for Governor of the state.  She becomes the second Alabama Chief Justice in as many months to seek an elected position in another branch.

Cobb has considerable campaign experience from her days on the judiciary.  In 2006, she was involved in the most expensive judicial race in the nation, spending more than $2.6 million to win the Chief Justiceship.  Since leaving the court, she has spoken out against money in judicial politics, although not against judicial elections themselves.

Two additional observations.  First, Cobb appears to be a deeply religious woman, and her announcement and website are rife with religious themes.  Those same themes came through during her 2006 judicial campaign.

Second, Cobb had this to say about her retirement from the court system in 2011: “My chief obligation as the top administrator of the court system was to secure adequate funding from the legislature for the judiciary. I became very concerned that, because of the partisanship within the legislature, I would be unable to succeed in that most important responsibility.”

It will be interesting to see if, and how, these themes manifest themselves in the upcoming gubernatorial race.

Major controversy brews over judicial appointment in Ireland

A significant political controversy appears to be brewing in Ireland after the outgoing Taoiseach (prime minister), appointed Attorney General Maire Whelan to a seat on the country’s second highest court. Minority parties in the government, including Fianna Fail and Sinn Fein, have charged that the appointment violated established procedures. It also appears that Whelan never sought the post.

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Three Australian ministers may face contempt charges for criticizing judges

In Australia, the Supreme Court of Victoria has order three government ministers and two journalists to appear before it to explain why they should not face contempt charges for eroding trust in the legal system.  One minister reportedly said that “Labor’s continued appointment of hard-left activist judges has come back to bite Victorians.”  Another allegedly warned that the courts “should not be places for ideological experiments in the face of global and local threats from Islamic extremism.”

The linked article offers as excellent explanation of the two forms of contempt available in Australia.  Although these proceedings are apparently quite rare, they are still shocking to American sensibilities. First Amendment protections and respect for vigorous political speech would make prosecution of this sort unthinkable.

I would welcome any readers more knowledegable than I in Australian jurisprudence (not a high bar) to offer thoughts in the comments.

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.

Trial ends in civil rights case challenging Louisiana’s judicial election districts

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.

Suspended Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore to run for U.S. Senate

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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North Carolina court struggle heats up

That escalated quickly.

In light of the North Carolina legislature’s proposal to reduce the size of the state court of appeals from 15 to 12, Judge Douglas McCollough resigned from the court yesterday.  Judge McCullough was due to leave the court next month under the state’s mandatory retirement laws (he is nearing age 72), but chose to leave early so that Governor Roy Cooper could fill his position immediately.

And immediately he did.  Fifteen minutes after Judge McCollough tendered his resignation, the governor nominated John Arrowood to fill the open seat.

Judge McCollough stated that he resigned now — before the legislation could be passed — to increase the likelihood that the court would maintain its current 15 member composition.  “I didn’t want my legacy to be the elimination of the seat,” he said.  But his decision to leave early, which emphasized the institutional health of the court, was still shrouded in political intrigue. Continue reading “North Carolina court struggle heats up”

The judicial workplace

Many workplaces have written and unwritten rules — dress codes, face time requirements, and informal norms about appropriate behavior. Courthouses are no different, and the most fundamental rule for judges is to always maintain the appearance of impartiality.

These rules are so well-engrained that it remains surprising when they are flaunted — as was the case last November when a judge in Ontario appeared on the bench wearing a “Make America Great Again” hat. Judge Bernd Zabel, a Canadian citizen and Donald Trump supporter, claimed that he was simply joking with his colleagues, who were predominantly supporters of Hillary Clinton.

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