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Judges spar over Bradbury’s proposed court changes

Judges spar over Bradbury’s proposed court changes

Idaho Freedom Foundation staff
April 29, 2010
Idaho Freedom Foundation staff
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April 29, 2010

A sitting Idaho Supreme Court justice is calling challenger John Bradbury’s proposed reforms to Idaho courts misstatements, but Bradbury is standing by his criticisms against the court.  Bradbury is challenging Justice Roger Burdick in a May 25 election, one of three contested court races on the ballot.  Justice Jim Jones, up for re-election in an unopposed contest, offered a critical response to some of Bradbury’s campaign talking points.  Jones also served as Idaho’s attorney general from 1983 to 1991.

“(Bradbury) needs to focus on campaign issues that are appropriate for judges and not make false, misleading, and deceptive statements against the court system,” Jones told IdahoReporter.com.  “Bradbury can say anything he wants against Burdick and that’s fine.  That doesn’t concern the court, but when he tries to make it look like the court is appointing judges [or] is discriminating against women, those are outright falsehoods, and the court can’t just idly by and let him make those statements.”

In a two-page letter, Jones offered responses to Bradbury’s claims that judges retired early and that their picked replacements were overwhelmingly men.  “The judiciary does not have the power to prevent judges from resigning or retiring, or to specify when they may do so,” Jones wrote.  He added that during the past three years, two judges died while in office, and four resigned to take other judicial positions.  “We don’t appoint judges.  We never have.  Under the Constitution, the governor does.”

Bradbury stands by his claim the judges retire early so that their successors can be appointed, rather than stand for election.  “Justice Jones has a problem with facts,” Bradbury told IdahoReporter.com.  “He can spin them however he wants but every new district and appellate judge in the last three years was appointed because they did not finish their term, and of those 22 appointees, only one was a woman.”  Bradbury wants to change state law so that appointed judges couldn’t run for re-election for their position.  That change would need to come from the Legislature, not the court system.

Jones also rejected Bradbury’s claim that the Supreme Court hasn’t promoted night and weekend courts, which could be more convenient for some people to attend.  “The Supreme Court has never been asked to consider night court,” Jones wrote.  “Any trial judge in the state who wants to create a night court can do so, with the consent of county officials because the county’s taxpayers must bear the increased cost of providing the court facilities and staff for night court.”

Bradbury responded by saying that he supports a pilot project for night courts to see if people would use them if they were made aware of that option.  “You can set them up to fail or you can advertise their availability through the clerk’s office and make them work by making their availability known through the clerk's office and the newspapers,” he said.

Burdick wrote on his website that perhaps Bradbury should try changing Idaho’s court system by running for a seat in the Idaho Legislature.  “Those who run on a platform requiring numerous legislative changes, such as tinkering with our constitutional system of selecting judges, mandating that counties fund night and weekend courts, and calling for changes in residency requirements,” Burdick wrote on the site without mentioning Bradbury by name,” would be better advised to run for the Legislature where these measures might realistically be accomplished.” IdahoReporter.com is scheduled to speak with Burdick before the May 25 primary.

Bradbury advocates for judicial elections, but Jones thinks perhaps Idaho should change its system of selecting judges.  “A lot of people who want a judicial seat simply aren’t willing to go through an election,” he said.  “I would guess that if you would do a survey, most of the thoughtful people would do away with judicial elections,” he said.  He added that former U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice Sandra Day O’Connor opposes state judicial elections.  Current Justice Ruth Bader-Ginsburg also opposes electing judges.

Jones added that  several state judicial campaigns have turned contentious or ugly, including Bradbury’s race against Justice Joel Horton in 2008, former Chief Justice Linda Copple Trout’s 2002 victory over challenger Starr Kelso, and Chief Justice Daniel Eismann’s 2000 race against former Justice Cathy Silak, the only time a challenger has ousted a sitting Idaho Supreme Court  justice in more than 60 years.  “Judicial elections get pretty ugly a lot of times because there are no issues you can talk about, so people tend to invent issues or get into personalities,” Jones said.  He joined the Idaho Supreme Court after winning an uncontested election six years ago.   “I don’t mind judicial elections, because I’ve run for office before and I know how to do it.  You can win an election like I did in 2004 by getting organized and discouraging other people from running, or you can do a lot of advertising like Bradbury tried to do two years ago.”

Jones believes Idaho’s current process for selecting judges is reasonable.  All judges on the district court level or higher stand for election, and vacancies are filled by the governor with recommendations by the Judicial Council, an appointed group that includes the Supreme Court chief justice in a non-voting role.  “Most of the positions go by appointment, where you screen the candidates, winnow out the weak ones, and send the best ones to the governor and he appoints.  Some politics is going to work its way into any system, but I think that pretty much eliminates some pal or buddy (of the governor) being appointed.”  Bradbury is critical of the Judicial Council’s appointment process and confidential process for handling complaints against judges.

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