Judge John Bradbury told lawyers and judges in Boise Wednesday that he’s not a rebel in a robe or a loose cannon, and that he’s challenging Justice Roger Burdick for a seat on the Idaho Supreme Court because he wants to change the course of the state’s courts.
Bradbury said if he’s elected to the state’s highest court on May 25, he wouldn’t be an activist judge, but would abide by the Idaho Constitution. “It’s a single act of courage to do what is right because you think the Constitution requires it,” he told the Ada County Bar and Bench.
Burdick focused on his experience throughout the court system for the past 28 years. “You have a choice between an individual who has worked every day to improve this system from within,” he told the audience, “as opposed to someone who, until today, has done nothing to reform Idaho’s judiciary.” Burdick added that the court system is facing significant problems due to a shrinking budget, and that the most important cases that will be decided by the Supreme Court in the next six years will deal with water rights.
When asked by Burdick to name any reforms he’s enacted while a judge, Bradbury talked about his work in rural mental health and drug courts in his judicial district in north central Idaho. He said it doesn’t make sense that more urban areas of Idaho have these problem-solving courts, designed to keep some offenders out of prison, since large cities also have more social services to help people with drug abuse or mental health issues. “Rural counties are tired of being last in line for everything,” he said.
The two candidates also discussed their opposing views on the Judicial Council, which handles complaints about judges and recommends appointments to the governor for open judges’ seats. Bradbury thinks the complaint process shouldn’t be confidential, and that not enough of the names handed to the governor are for women or minorities. “We judges are not royal princes, we are public servants,” he said. Bradbury also argued that people don’t trust secret proceedings. “We ought to set the example rather than defy it.”
“I never once found that there was any chicanery in an issue addressing the Judicial Council,” Burdick replied. He served on the Judicial Council for six years while he was a district judge in Jerome. He said the complaint process doesn’t prevent people from going online to Facebook or blogs to complain about judges, and that last year, there were just 39 formal complaints of ethical violations against Idaho’s 128 judges.
Burdick agreed with Bradbury that Idaho doesn’t have enough representation by women and minorities on the bench, but said the judiciary is working internally to increase the number of applicants for positions. “We are working on it, and hopefully soon we will become successful in the near future,” he said. Barriers to applying for judicial positions that block all applicants include the Judicial Council’s selection process, which Burdick said includes a 27-page questionnaire, the prospect of elections, and lower pay than is possible in the private sector. All district, appellate, and Supreme Court judges earn more than $100,000 a year.
The debate before lawyers and judges included more references to legal cases and principles than Bradbury and Burdick’s appearance on an Idaho Public Television debate. Both judges expressed some concern over laws allowing lawyers to disqualify a judge without cause, though both said they support the practice. “At the end of the day, a fair trial and the perception of a fair trial is critical,” Bradbury said.
The contest between Bradbury and Burdick will be settled on the May 25 election, as will other district and appellate judicial races across the state.