Idaho Supreme Court Justice Roger Burdick all but accused District Judge John Bradbury of lying, and Bradbury called the state’s highest court out of touch during a televised debate at the Idaho State Capitol Tuesday. The half-hour debate touched on several recurring policy issues in the campaign for a Supreme Court seat, as well as the recent survey of Idaho lawyers that favored the incumbent Burdick over the challenger Bradbury. Voters will decide between the two men on the May 25 primary election.
Burdick touted his record on the Supreme Court and on lower state courts in Idaho. “For 28 years, I have helped people solve their legal problems,” he said. Judicial candidates avoid saying how they would rule in specific legal situations, but Burdick said he has experience dealing with cases on water rights and government transparency. “You need to have a Supreme Court justice who understands the system of water and the history of water.”
Bradbury reiterated his criticisms with the current state court system, which include that complaints against judges are kept private and that courts are too costly for people. He said regular people are being priced out of the court system. He also said that Burdick rejected some of his complaints without explanation. “Mr. Burdick is long on conclusion and short on fact,” he said.
“We are doing things constantly, daily, to reduce costs to the court and increase access to the court,” Burdick responded.
The two candidates were most critical of one another while answering a question about the state school facilities lawsuit. Bradbury called the decision by the Idaho Supreme Court to not require the Legislature to find more funding for school buildings the darkest day in the court’s history.
Burdick rejected Bradbury’s description of the events. “I’m not going to say it’s a lie, but it’s darn close to it,” he said. Burdick also said that the Supreme Court, which is supposed to interpret and rule on laws, doesn’t create state law or the state budget. “It is up to the Idaho Legislature to fund public schools.”
Bradbury said the survey of more than 600 lawyers by the Idaho State Bar isn’t a fair assessment of his work as a judge in north Idaho, since he said only 70 lawyers practice before him and he knows a maximum of 100 judges in the state. “They take the opportunity to misuse the bar poll,” Bradbury said, adding that lawyers game the system to oppose him.
“I sincerely appreciate their vote of confidence,” Burdick said about the bar survey. He added that attorneys could get to know Bradbury in areas outside the courtroom, including reading over his written court rulings.
Both candidates also differed on the final question, about which U.S. Supreme Court candidate they admire. Bradbury chose Sandra Day O’Connor, both for her role as being the first female justice on the court and for her decisions. “Intellectual heft and common sense are not incompatible,” he said describing O’Connor.
Burdick didn’t offer up a role model, instead protesting the high court’s current stance as being too activist in its decisions. “I think they’re nothing more than a super-legislature at this time,” he said.
After the debate, Bradbury said the event went fine, though there wasn’t enough time to debate his issues in the campaign. He also said he could handle negative comments from Burdick, and give them right back.
The incumbent, Burdick, is going through his first contested judicial election, and after the debate explained his strategy. “I tried to be truthful and tried to educate people about the great judiciary that they have,” he said. “That’s not political talk. That’s the truth.”
Justice Jim Jones, who is running unopposed in a separate Supreme Court race, has challenged Bradbury to another debate. Bradbury said he agreed, and is trying to settle on either May 13 or 18 for the debate. When asked during Tuesday’s debate about some of Jones’ comments, Bradbury said, “I sometimes wonder who I’m running against.”