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Chief Justice O’Connor abandons some of her ideas

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The Dispatch reported today that Ohio Supreme Court Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor  has abandoned four of her proposals to change judicial elections. The three ideas that remain from the proposals she suggested in early 2013 are: 1) amend the constitution so that judicial elections take place in odd years, so that only judges would be on the ballot, and move judges from the bottom to the top of the ballot; 2) create a voter education website; and 3) increase the minimum years of experience required for running for judge.

The ideas that she has thrown to the curb are: eliminating party affiliation on primary ballots; creating a system to recommend nominees to the governor for filling vacancies; requiring the senate to approve appointments to the Ohio Supreme Court; and increasing the length of judges’ terms. After consulting with legislators, O’Connor concluded that these ideas “were not going to fly.”

I like O’Connor’s idea about increasing the minimum experience for judges, though I suggest even more years of practice before serving as a judge. She thinks eight years of lawyering is sufficient experience for a common pleas court judge. I think 15 is more appropriate.  She wants to see 12 years service for appellate and supreme court judges. I prefer 20.

O’Connor’s other two remaining ideas are inadequate because they attempts to fix a system that doesn’t work in the first place. No matter how one might try to improve the election system, elections are a poor way to put judges in office, because elections don’t provide a means of vetting the candidates. We need the best and the brightest to serve as judges, and ensuring that we have the best and brightest in place will happen only when a non-partisan commission scrutinizes candidates based on an objective set of requirements.

Here’s a second problem. I don’t think the average voter cares enough about who serves as judges, because judges don’t directly impact the average citizen’s life.  If voters don’t care, no amount of educational websites will cure the lack of knowledge voters have when it comes to judges.

O’Connor’s heart is in the right place. She sees a problem and wants to fix it, but to fix this problem, we need to jettison the current system and replace it with an appointive/retention election system. To get there will require significant education of the public and a massive campaign to negate the opposition the parties will throw at the idea, but if we want to fix a bad system, let’s do something that will have real meaning.

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