This blog has been closely following the Democratic primary elections for county judge in Brooklyn, New York, where voters were forced to choose between candidates approved by the Democratic party machine and a group of “insurgents” running on an independent slate. The election took place earlier this month, and the results are … flabbergasting.
In March, I flagged a story about Palm Beach County Judge Dana Santino, who was elected last November after running a particularly ugly campaign against his opponent, Gregg Lerman. udge Santino ran ads suggesting that Lerman, a defense attorney, represents “murders, rapists, child molesters, and other criminals.” She was subsequently investigated by the Florida Judicial Qualifications Commission, and admitted to violating two canons of judicial ethics. The Commission has yet to issue a recommendation to the Florida Supreme Court about Judge Santino’s punishment, if any.
In the meantime, there has been an interesting ripple effect. It turns out that before her own election, Judge Santino briefly served as a campaign manager to another Palm Beach County judge, Circuit Judge Cheryl Caracuzzo. In light of this fact, Gregg Lerman (Santino’s former opponent) asked Judge Caracuzzo to recuse herself from all cases in which he was representing a party. Judge Caracuzzo agreed.
Although requested by Lerman, the recusal now makes things more complicated for his practice. There are fewer judges available to his clients, which may lead to more delays in the administration of justice.
All involved insist that there are no hard feelings about the earlier campaign. But judicial elections have these sort of ancillary (and ultimately predictable) effects. At minimum, a lawyer in Mr. Lerman’s shoes might think twice before seeking a judicial position in the future.
The Senate Judiciary Committee yesterday advanced the nominations of four individuals for the federal bench. They are Ralph Erickson (8th Circuit), Donald Coggins Jr (D.S.C.), Dabney Friedreich (D.D.C.), and Steven Schwartz (Court of Federal Claims). Only Mr. Schwartz proved to be a controversial vote; he was passed 11-9.
Typically, critiques of money and judicial politics focus on the concern that donors to judicial campaigns will expect favors from a judge after election, compromising the judge’s impartiality. In a bizarre twist, the Buffalo News reports on a judicial candidate who is spending her donors’ contributions on other, unrelated campaigns:
When local attorneys, business people and others donated a record amount of money to Acea M. Mosey’s campaign fund, they knew they were giving money to an experienced lawyer and Democratic Party stalwart running for Erie County Surrogate Court judge.
What they may not have known is that some of their donations – at least $33,393 – would go to political parties, political organizations and seekers of a wide variety of other political offices, including candidates for Congress, Erie County sheriff, the mayor of Buffalo and chairman of the Erie County Democratic Committee.
Mosey’s campaign organization, Mosey for Surrogate committee, this year has given money – either in donations or expenditures – to a total of 167 political candidates, parties and organizations, according to a Buffalo News analysis of state Elections Board records.
Mosey, by the way, has raised $900,000 for her judicial election campaign even though she is running unopposed.
Earlier this year, I reported on a federal civil rights trial in Terrebonne Parish, Louisiana (the Baton Rouge area). The plaintiffs alleged that the system used to elect judges in the state’s 32nd Judicial District was unconstitutional in that it disenfranchised minority voters. In particular, plaintiffs alleged that the state’s “at-large” voting system, meaning that judges are chosen through a parish-wide vote even though each judge presides over a specific district. The bench trial concluded at the end of April.
On Thursday, Judge Brady issued a 91-page ruling, concluding that the use of at-large voting in Terrebonne Parish unconstitutionally dilutes the voting power of black voters. The actual remedy will be determined later through a series of conferences with parties and counsel.
The full story and reaction is here.
From Scottish Legal News:
Less than a month after a warning by Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, the Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales, that the English legal system was facing a ‘ticking time bomb’ in its failure to recruit judges, Scottish Legal News can reveal that Scotland too is facing such a crisis with top quality candidates spurning elevation to the bench.
Our enquiries among leading QCs found that most had no appetite to become judges citing hostile media coverage, lack of respect for the judiciary, relatively modest pay and pension packages, a backlog of distressing child sex abuse cases and concerns over judicial independence as well as the isolation and strenuous work load.
When incentives to enter a profession drop, the number of people seeking that profession drop as well.