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October 17, 2008

Justice system not for sale

Citizens of Johnson County, on Nov. 4, will be asked to decide if we want to elect judges rather than continue with the current system of appointing them based on merit. What happens if we scrap this method in favor of a politicized election process?

Any lawyer, regardless of ability, reputation, skill, temperament or experience can become a judge if he or she can raise enough money and run a successful campaign for election.

Judges will become politicians, worried about and indebted to those who give them money for their campaigns.

Influence will become ingrained in the justice system, both criminal and civil.

Without stopping to consider what this really means, many of us might vote yes when we really mean to vote no. Here’s the choice. Do we discard our current merit-based selection system for one that invites influence-peddling and the potential for corruption?

I prefer that Johnson County keep selecting judges by merit. Don’t you?

Carefully read the wording on ballot Question 1. Vote no. The law and justice system should not be for sale in Johnson County.

K.O. Strohbehn



Let me see if I have this correctly. The lawyers who belong to the Johnson County Bar association ELECT 7 of their peers to the judicial nominating committee. The elected Johnson County Commissioners also choose 7 non lawyer individuals to the committe. When an opening occurs, the committee meets to determine 3 applicants. The governor of Kansas appoints one of the candidates.

So - what is the problem? For those who don't like the current district judges - have you ever thought of making sure the commissioners are of same mind as you THAT YOU ELECTED - as well as the governor THAT WAS ELECTED?

In other words, you are unable to get the judges you want because you can't get the commissioners and governor of your choosing elected? So - to circumvent the process - you decided you want to vote for the judges when you failed to get your preferred elected officials into office as a commissioner or governor.

Can't blame someone for trying to get what they want even if the public votes against them.

Dan Beyer

You have a very small elite group of politically influenced lawyers deciding who will be judges.
That's more fair than we the people electing our judges in this democratic land?


I can't believe any intelligent person would EVER consider electing judges. It will become a popularity contest - some of the best judges are not the most influential or the most outgoing - but who cares who is the best.

I'm an accountant. I've known many genius accountants who didn't make the best managers. However, they were excellent accountants.

It's the same for the judges - some are excellent judges but they won't make the best politicans. Which is more important - those who are unbiased and great judges (there are some grey areas but the basics are black and white) or someone who is good at fundraising?

Keep politics out of the judicial system. If you have problems with the current selection, work with others to get it tweaked and don't turn it into a personality contest instead!!!

Dan Beyer

If you note in my previous post, the Kansas City Star refused to cover this event even though it was moderated by their own legal reporter Dan Margolies!
Why report the truth when you can slant it is obviously the thinking at the Kansas City Star nowadays.

Dan Beyer

From Kansas Liberty: 17 October 2008

Backers of 'yes' campaign condemn the lawyers' 'good ol' boys club' and a failure to name a single black candidate. 'No' supporters see a conservative plot behind giving citizens the vote.

JoCo judicial selection movement gains local attention

The long-simmering Johnson County debate over whether or not voters should be allowed to select judges came into focus in two separate venues Thursday.
At a contentious lunch-hour debate at the Sheraton Hotel in Overland Park, attorney Greg Musil, of Johnson Countians for Justice, Doug Johnson, of Kansas Judicial Review, and University of Kansas Law Professor Stephen J. Ware exchanged views as a Kansas City Star columnist attempted to moderate the debate.
Musil's group is defending the status-quo, in which a committee dominated by lawyers decides who should be nominated to the bench without any public vetting process. Johnson and Kansas Judicial Review favor a reform that would allow voters to decide who becomes a judge. Ware is a member of the Federalist Society, the sponsor of the event.
A few hours later, the battle was rejoined at the Johnson County Library at a heated debate hosted by the League of Women Voters of Johnson County.
At the evening debate, Musil, a lawyer with the firm of Shughart, Thomson & Kilroy, spoke in opposition to changing the current system and faced off against Charlene Bredemeier, president of the Kansas chapter of Eagle Forum and a member of Judicial Review of Johnson County. Judicial Review is advocating the process be changed to a direct election.
Johnson County residents will vote on the issue Nov. 4.
Currently judges are selected by a 14-member judicial nominating commission composed of seven lawyers elected by the Johnson County Bar association and seven non-lawyer members who are selected by the Johnson County Commissioners. When there is an opening for a district judge the commission meets and selects three applicants. The governor then appoints a judge from the three remaining applicants.
Both sides in the argument agree the current system gives lawyers effective control over the nominating process. Those favoring the current system say that professional control helps reward merit. Critics claim it creates a closed circle that gives inordinate power to very few citizens.
Bredemeier and supporters of changing the current selection process also argue a direct election would depoliticize the nominating process and create a more diverse group of judges.
“In 34 years there has not been one black man appointed to the position and that just makes this selection process look like a good ol' boys club,” Bredemeier said at the debate. “Here we have the Johnson County Bar Association getting their liberal judges on there and I’m a conservative and all I want is the equal opportunity to get someone who represents someone more like me.”
Musil responded by arguing that minorities and women were generally more likely to be appointed as judges in a "merit-based" selection process than a direct election and said there were more women judges in Johnson County than in Kansas counties which use the direct election method.
Musil argued a direct election system would actually cause the selection process to become more political, a direct contradiction to what the direct election supporters say the change would promote.
“There is no reason to change a system that has worked for 34 years,” Musil said at the debate. “And what you are trying to do with the direct elections won’t just inch up the political meter; you are going to send it through the roof. They will have to turn into a politician to win so we will have politicians as judges.”
Musil did admit there could be some flaws with the current nominating system but suggested a better alternative to "completely trashing" the current system would be to modify it. But these suggestions did not quiet his opponents.
“You have had 34 years to voluntarily tweak this system and the point is you didn’t,” Bredemeier said. “And you know people think this system is rigged and that is the black cloud you create when you don’t tweak the system in 34 years.”
Many of those seeking to reform the judicial selection system see the present method of nominating judges as rewarding cronyism among political insiders more than merit.
Investigative reporter and blogger E.F. Glynn has reported on the pattern of political donations leading to appointments on judicial nominating committees, both at the district level and at the state Supreme Court nominating committee level. Most members of judicial nominating committees are donors to Democratic or liberal Republican candidates and groups.
Glynn singled out Janis McMillen, a member of the Tenth Judicial District (Johnson County) nominating committee, producing documents showing a history of donating thousands of dollars to liberal politicians, including Democratic Rep Dennis Moore and Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, and liberal organizations, including EMILY's List. McMillen also donated $500 to Dolores Furtado, the former Johnson County commissioner who first appointed McMillen to the nominating committee. Furtado is now running as a Democrat for state representative.
McMillen, who is a former president of the Kansas League of Women Voters and the current president of the liberal Mainstream Coalition, was in the audience at the library debate, urging the current system be retained. She said that as a member of the nominating committee, she tried to have respect for various nominees and joined with others in saying the personal and political details of nominees shouldn't be made public.
Those favoring the current system have tried to portray the reformers as right-wing activists. Musil's group, for example, rented a large billboard showing a photograph of Johnson County District Attorney Phill Kline, a noted pro-life prosecutor, as part of its effort to get out a "No" vote. Kline was recently defeated in the GOP primary when he sought re-election. He has not been mentioned as a candidate for judge.
Kansas City's two major papers, The Pitch and The Kansas City Star, both have claimed that the attempt to give voters a say in judicial selection is part of a conservative effort to slant the judiciary toward pro-life views. In an editorial, The Star said voting on judges meant money could play a role in the process. Neither paper covered Thursday's events, despite the role of the Star's legal reporter, Dan Margolies, in moderating the Federalist Society's debate.
One thing both Bredemeier and Musil agreed on was that the language on the ballot was confusing. Musil said there aren’t any options on how to word the ballot other than those offered by statutes.
“The language is torture,” Musil said.
“He would know more on this as he is the lawyer here,” Bredemeier said.
The issue will appear as Question No. 1 on the ballot. Those in favor of keeping the current system should vote no. Those in favor of changing the system to a direct election should vote yes.

-Holly Smith


The writer insists that judges are currently selected by "merit". Aren't they selected by politicians who are "worried about and indebted to those who give them money for their campaigns"?

The only difference will be that we the people will have a chance to reject those who we think will overreach or who are unqualified.

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