Fair Courts E-lert: West Virginia Passes Permanent Public Financing in Judicial Elections

April 23, 2013

West Virginia Passes Permanent Public Financing in Judicial Elections
Both West Virginia chambers have passed a bill that would extend the public financing program for Supreme Court Elections indefinitely. According to the West Virginia Record, “The program began as a pilot project in the 2012 election, and Republican Allen Loughry was the lone candidate in a field of four to use it. He was elected to one of two open seats, using $350,000 received from the program for his campaign.” The article continues to explain, “In a contested primary election, candidates who use the program will receive $300,000. In a contested general election, a candidate will receive $525,000.” The article quotes the bill text: “As spending by candidates and independent parties increases, so does the perception that contributors and interested third parties hold too much influence over the judicial process… The detrimental effects of spending large amounts by candidates and independent parties are especially problematic in judicial elections because impartiality is uniquely important to the integrity and credibility of our courts.”
Sources: Andrew Lannom, WV Legislative Session Dealt With Several Legal Industry Bills, State Journal, April 20, 2013; John O’Brien, Legislature Passes Public Financing Bill For SC Elections, West Virginia Record, April 15, 2013.

New Website from North Carolina Voters for Clean Elections and Justice at Stake
Justice at Stake and North Carolina Voters for Clean Elections announced a joint campaign to preserve North Carolina’s public financing system for judicial elections, including launching a new website, judgesnotpoliticians.org. According to a press release from Justice at Stake, “The site features video of two former Governors — Jim Holshouser, a Republican, and Jim Hunt, a Democrat — endorsing the state’s judicial public financing program. It also gives voters the opportunity to sign a petition urging the State Legislature and Governor Pat McCrory to protect and fund the public financing program.” The press release further explains, “The website is part of a growing campaign to preserve the judicial public financing program. The program was enacted in 2004, and since its inception, 80 percent of the candidates in contested races for the North Carolina Supreme Court and Court of Appeals have enrolled in the program, including all eight appellate candidates in 2012.”
Source: Press Release, Justice at Stake Joins North Carolina Citzens' Group in Push to Save Public Financing, Justice at Stake, April 22, 2013.


Brookings Institution: Judicial Vacancies without Nominees
Russell Wheeler of the Brookings Institution has authored a paper about the high number of federal judicial vacancies without a nominee. His conclusions include: “Considerably fewer of the vacancies without nominees on April 12, 2013, could reasonably be expected to have had nominees by then, based on patterns in the previous two administrations[;] Of the vacancies without nominees, almost half are in states with two Republican senators, and those vacancies are older than those in other states[;] There are many more nominee-less vacancies now than at this point in President George Bush’s presidency [;] Of the vacancies that have received nominations, the time from vacancy to nomination was greater in states with two Republican senators.” Wheeler also addresses possible causes: “We can only speculate, but no doubt both the Obama White House and at least some of the senators bear some responsibility for the high number of long-lasting nominee-less vacancies, and the long times from vacancy to nomination. The 391 days on average from date of district vacancy to nomination in two-Democratic senator states under Obama is longer than the overall time for all district nominations under Bush to this point—276 days on average. (At this point, Bush circuit nominees had waited on average 300 days for nominations.) Perhaps the Obama White House has been slower to suggest potential nominees in states with Republican senators, or react more slowly to suggestions from those senators. Perhaps Republican senators insist, more than their Democratic counterparts, on nominees they proposed over White House objections or object more to White House proposed nominees… Perhaps Democratic senators from mixed-delegation states are the hold-ups, or perhaps Democratic House of Representative delegations have also stymied quick nominations by insisting that the White House pay attention to them as well as to their Republican senator counterparts.”
Source: Russell Wheeler, What's Behind all Those Judicial Vacancies Without Nominees?, Brookings Institute, April 18, 2013.


Delays in Courtrooms are Now the Norm
The New York Times features a piece that begins, “The Bronx courts are failing.” The article argues that courts in New York are crippled from budget cuts, and shows how delays are the new normal for court systems. The article continues, “With criminal cases languishing for years, a plague of delays in the Bronx criminal courts is undermining one of the central ideals of the justice system, the promise of a speedy trial. At a time of slashed judicial budgets across the country, the Bronx offers a stark picture of what happens when an overwhelmed justice system can no longer keep pace: Old cases pile up, prosecutions fail at alarming rates, lives stall while waiting for court hearings and trust in the system and its ability to protect the public evaporates.” The article continues with specific cases, and the damage that is done when cases languish: “In the bodega that night in 2007, a man in a T-shirt and jeans happened to be buying NyQuil when Robert Gaston was shot three times in the chest. Back then, he was the perfect witness: an off-duty cop. He said he had seen the gunman’s tattoos. But in five years, a lot of things can happen to a case in the Bronx. In 2010, Officer Marco Sang, the perfect witness of 2007, had been one of dozens of officers caught fixing tickets. The Police Department had disciplined him after he gave evasive answers. The lawyer for the man with the teardrop tattoos knew a gift when he saw one. ‘This whole case is Marco Sang,’ he told the jury. ‘Marco Sang is a liar.’”
Source: William Glaberson, Faltering Courts, Mired in Delays, New York Times, April 13, 2013.

Budget Cuts Lead Courts to Ask for Emergency Funding
This week, the Administrative Office of the Court announced that it will be seeking $51 million in emergency rescue funds to offset the impact of sequester-related budget cuts. According to the Federal Times, “The [federal] defender services program alone is losing $51 million to the sequester. The program provides legal representation to defendants who can’t afford lawyers on their own. Already, criminal prosecutions have been delayed because local offices lack the staff to continue representing clients or can’t afford experts and other costs ….  Besides seeking to replace the lost $51 million for defender services, the judiciary will ask for additional money for probation and pre-trial services, security and court staffing ….” The budget for the federal judiciary was cut $350 million, or about 5 percent of total funding, due to the sequester. Chief Judge William Traxler, chairman of the executive committee of the Judicial Conference of the United States, said in a statement that while the judiciary is committed to doing its part for deficit reduction, the impact of the sequester “is particularly harsh because the courts have no control over their workload. They must respond to all cases that are filed, whether they are by individuals, businesses or the government.”
Source: Sean, Reilly, Courts Seek More Than $51 Million To Counter Sequester Cuts, Federal Times, April 18, 2013.