Idaho Supreme Court Justice Roger Burdick is facing his first contested election on the May 25 primary, and he said he’s willing to debate the facts and the role of Idaho’s courts with his challenger, Judge John Bradbury. Burdick has been a judge for 28 years, the majority of them at the magistrate and district level in Jerome and Twin Falls.
He said his lack of opponents in judicial elections reflects well on his time on the bench. “I take that as an accomplishment,” he said. He added that he thinks the lack of contested races this year shows tremendous respect and confidence for judges currently serving. “Voters know when there’s a need for a change,” he said. The race between Burdick and Bradbury is one of three judicial races across the state with two names on the ballot.
Burdick said he agrees with comments from Justice Jim Jones that criticized Bradbury’s campaign and called some of Bradbury’s claims misstatements.
(Watch IdahoReporter.com’s interview with Bradbury here.) Burdick said the state courts have a system for coming up with reform efforts. Judges report to the Idaho Supreme Court suggesting changes to the court, and the justices create committees to look at issues. Burdick said this decentralized process keeps judges in touch with courts in every county in Idaho, but that Bradbury hasn’t been part of the process.
Burdick added that most judges do participate in judicial committees.
Bradbury targets several of his campaign critiques at the Judicial Council, a panel made up of judges, lawyers, and citizens that provides some oversight of the courts. The Judicial Council handles citizens’ complaints against judges confidentially, rather than making them public. Burdick didn’t find fault with the council’s plan, since he said there aren’t many complaints against judges and people are free to make their grievances public elsewhere.
The Supreme Court doesn’t have direct authority over the Judicial Council, though Chief Justice Daniel Eismann has a non-voting role. Burdick, who served on the council when he was a district judge, said Eismann doesn’t discuss the council’s business with the court. He said that the Judicial Council is a useful check on potential conduct abuses by judges and political abuses by governors appointing judges.
Bradbury is critical of judges retiring early, since the Judicial Council, rather than voters, chooses new judges. Those replacement judges usually stand for re-election, often without opposition. The Legislature, not the courts, could change Idaho’s process of selecting and electing judges, though Burdick said he thinks Idaho’s elections work and won’t change.
Burdick also defended the senior judges program, which brings back judges to work as needed in some districts. Bradbury said the program can allow retired judges to pad their state pensions, but Burdick, as well as Jones, said it saves the state money by not needing to hire more full-time judges.
Like other state agencies, Idaho’s court system has received funding reductions from state lawmakers. Burdick said these cuts concern him, and will affect services to the public.
Most of the spending reductions to courts in the next budget, which starts in July, will be replaced by money generated from an added court fee on people found guilty of a crime that ranges from $10 to $100, depending on the offense. Burdick said he favors the added court surcharge.
The judiciary’s administrator, Patti Tobias, testified in favor of the extra penalty on guilty offenders, which lasts for three years, before state lawmakers earlier this year.
Judges are some of the highest-paid state employees, usually earning more than $100,000, but Burdick said many judges could earn more in the private sector, and that people don’t become judges for the paycheck.
The final tally on the May 25 primary will likely settle the two-man race between Burdick and Bradbury. Judicial elections in Idaho are decided in the primary as long as one candidate gets 50 percent of the vote. If three or more candidates split the vote in the primary with no one receiving a simple majority, the top two candidates would square off on the November ballot.
Burdick and Bradbury will meet in a televised debate Tuesday evening.