You Be the Judge

Commercial Appeal columnist David Waters admits in a story today that he is flummoxed by the candidates in the August 7th election. He should have been attending the Midtown Republican Club meetings. Then he would have had an opportunity to meet those who are interested enough to seek out our votes, tell a little about themselves and allow us to make our decisions.

Yes, as he says, it’s a large ballot. But that isn’t an excuse. Waters begins by saying he knows nothing about the four up for Circuit Court Judge Division 1. Each of them has been at our meeting, some more than once. It wasn’t hard to meet them or to ask a few questions. Each meeting took about an hour of our time, an hour spent with friends enjoying dinner out – hardly a terrible civic duty.

“I really have no idea how qualified any of the four candidates are,” he adds. “Even the most diligent voters can’t be expected to be fully informed about 81 judicial candidates,” he continues. That’s not true. If he were of a conservative bend, he could look at the recommendations of the Shelby GOP posted on their website. He could have googled each name for information. This blog and others, such as the highly informative and MemphisShelbyInform did homework to find out about them and that information is readily available.

If he gets his information only from the Commercial Appeal, it’s true that he wouldn’t have found out much. They haven’t been good about interviewing these candidates. Maybe they wouldn’t like what they would find; that Democrats are not always the best judges. They did cite a few examples of judges who have problems with bankruptcy and vacation time, but it was a scattershot event.

So what does he conclude? Waters decides that electing judges is not the best way to get good ones. He wants the Missouri plan which he calls a “merit selection.” He elaborates: “A bipartisan panel of attorneys, judges, elected officials and citizens vets potential judges and gives the governor a list of qualified candidates.”

In other words, because he is too unwilling to take the time out to find out about these people he wants to take it out of the hands of the people. Does he really believe trial lawyers – heavily Democrat – will be bipartisan when their trade depends on cases? As for the governor, they have stacked the deck for him so that he has very little choice in candidate selection. That’s how we’ve ended up with liberal Supreme Court justices and a liberal Attorney General in a conservative state.

Let people like Waters stay home and not vote if they are uninformed. Or they can vote on races they know about and leave the others blank so that informed voters can prevail.

It’s really appalling that a journalist would champion wresting democracy from the people. Just shows where journalism is today. It’s a propaganda machine. Waters can call his plan a meritocracy, but it sounds more like an elite ruling class than representative government.

Speaking of information, Eve Settles of Backinrivercity sends this update:

The Shelby County Deputy Sheriff’s Association’s endorsements in the judicial races have been added to candidate backgrounds in Voting Smart: Your Guide to Shelby Co.’s 2014 Judicial Elections.

We’ve also added a link to the Commercial Appeal’s recent investigative piece chastising General Sessions judges Phyllis Gardner, Betty Thomas-Moore and Lonnie Thompson for taking too much time off from the bench.

Several people have asked us if we would rescind our recommendation of Judge Gardner based on this new information. Here’s our take on the issue:

The judges broke no laws, bent no regulations. Judges Gardner and Moore defended themselves by saying they are “entitled” to the time off. Judge Moore (and presumably, Judge Gardner as well) bases her position on personnel policies for City of Memphis employees (see her comments to Back in River City here). Shelby Co.’s Chief Administrative Officer Harvey Kennedy told the CA that elected officials are not subject to specific vacation policies, but take time off at their discretion.

We strongly believe that the black robe is an honor that should be worn with humility and respect for the citizens and taxpayers who award it. To treat a General Sessions judgeship as just another job in city government – with vacation and sick day benefits one can take at will – is a degradation of the role and its responsibility. General Sessions courtrooms are closed four weeks a year and every Friday afternoon. A judge with a deferential attitude, rather than an entitled one, would consider that time as time off, not just a perquisite of scheduling.

The other issue raised by the CA article is the use of unpaid attorneys who agree to sit in as “special judges” when a judge is absent. No matter how principled the parties may be, this practice naturally raises questions about judicial favoritism among litigants and other attorneys. The tradition is not good for our judicial system. It should be used minimally and better alternatives explored.

The Commercial Appeal deserves praise for its recent investigative reporting on both candidates and sitting judges. As for Back in River City, we are holding to our recommendation for another term for Judge Gardner. In our opinion, she is the better of the two candidates for General Sessions Division 2. That said, we hope that the spotlight shone on judges’ time away from their courtrooms will prompt all election winners to use better judgment in their vacation planning.

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