Blog

Do last names matter in judicial elections? You bet they do.

Posted by:

Last week’s elections give me cause to revisit the matter of whether judges should be elected or appointed by a body that vets them for their qualifications. First, let’s review the comments from the judicial candidates who ran for appellate and trial court positions in Franklin County, Ohio. They were all asked, “Do you support merit selection of state supreme court and state appellate judges and explain why.” With one exception, all were in favor of elections.

I wonder if the candidates felt compelled to express support for elections only because their own success depended on being elected. How do you say you don’t favor elections when you’re running in one?

My skepticism aside, I think their comments are based on a false premise. To show you what I mean, let’s look at what two candidates in particular said: “I place great trust in the ability of an informed electorate to decide who is elected to the bench,” and “The people of Ohio are more than capable of choosing our judges.” Here’s the false premise: voters have ample information to make an informed decision. In fact, they don’t.

I’ve talked to a number of non-lawyers about judicial elections, and I hear cries of frustration. Voters don’t know who they should vote for, and the reason is they don’t have meaningful information about the candidates. Voters don’t like being asked to make a choice with so little information.

Judicial elections are far different from other elections. Candidates running for the statehouse can talk about issues ranging from taxes to abortion. For the most part, judicial candidates are prohibited from stating their views, which makes sense. We don’t want judicial candidates staking out positions on issues that may come before them as judges.

But there’s also something else that’s significantly different about judicial candidates. To excel as judges, candidates must have certain attributes, such as being even tempered, experienced, well versed in the law, reasonable and fair minded. Voters don’t know who is best qualified, and so they guess when voting.

To illustrate my point, let’s look at one race in particular from last week and compare the candidates, who I’ll refer to as Candidates A and B. Before going further, I have to tell you, Candidate A is a good friend and someone I think highly of. I have never met Candidate B but assume he is a good lawyer, a good person, and a hard worker.

Candidate A has been practicing law since 1987. He is a board certified civil trial lawyer, has tried over a hundred jury trials in a variety of civil cases and regularly serves as a mediator. Candidate B has been practicing law since 2005 and has tried 30 felony cases. The Columbus Bar Association, which interviews and assesses candidates, “highly recommended” Candidate A.  Candidate B was rated as “acceptable.”

Based on these objective criteria, you would think Candidate A won the election last Tuesday, but that’s not what happened. Candidate B won, and it’s likely he won because of something that was given to him: a common last name that resonates with voters when they have no other basis upon which to cast their vote.

I don’t mean to be critical of Candidate B. My focus here is not about people but about the process.

The problem with judicial races being determined on the basis of last names is hardly a newsflash. Plenty has been written about the name game in judicial races and that when electing judges, it’s justice in name only.

Why is nothing being done about the problem? Amending the state’s constitution is a big challenge. The political parties like the status quo and are good at convincing the public that there’s foul play behind any effort in moving to a system where candidates are appointed.

It’s sad, because judges should be selected based on their qualifications, but for now, last names matter more.

What’s your view?  I’d like to know.

__________________________________________________

Jack D’Aurora writes for considerthisbyjd.com

___________________________________________________

To subscribe to this blog, use the subscribe box at http://www.considerthisbyjd.com.

10


Discussion

  1. Anonymous  November 10, 2014

    My gut tells me that direct elections are always the best choice. However, I think in the case of judges the public just doesn’t feel that the candidates will have a direct effect on their lives and therefore they don’t take the time to research the candidates. The Columbus Bar Association does a very good job with their vetting process and it’s a shame that the election results don’t reflect those efforts. An appointment-retention election system might be a good compromise, but carries its own risks. As much as I’d like the electorate to make an informed choice, I really don’t want potential judges to only come from a pool of politically well-connected candidates who are cashing in favors from whomever the Governor might be. This may still be best left to the press to keep the pressure on judges who don’t have the right temperament or judgment to serve the public.

    (reply)
  2. Anonymous  November 10, 2014

    My gut tells me that direct elections are always the best choice. However, I think in the case of judges the public just doesn’t feel that the candidates will have a direct effect on their lives and therefore they don’t take the time to research the candidates. The Columbus Bar Association does a very good job with their vetting process and it’s a shame that the election results don’t reflect those efforts. An appointment-retention election system might be a good compromise, but carries its own risks. As much as I’d like the electorate to make an informed choice, I really don’t want potential judges to only come from a pool of politically well-connected candidates who are cashing in favors from whomever the Governor might be. This may still be best left to the press to keep the pressure on judges who don’t have the right temperament or judgment to serve the public.

    (reply)
  3. miriam rafferty  November 10, 2014

    I usually ask lawyers to help give me info on judges. If they cant give me solid answers about the candidate, I don’t guess, I just don’t vote for judges. I agree that it is a big issue.

    (reply)
  4. miriam rafferty  November 10, 2014

    I usually ask lawyers to help give me info on judges. If they cant give me solid answers about the candidate, I don’t guess, I just don’t vote for judges. I agree that it is a big issue.

    (reply)
  5. Ron Plymale  November 10, 2014

    Jack: You asked for reader’s opinions and you get it. œLawyer A€ is someone I, like you, am proud to know; have tried cases with, and believe to have been the most capable candidate on the entire judicial ballot. His last name does not seem to have been a substantial impediment to his wife, who has, to my knowledge, never lost an election. My opinion is that €œlawyer A€, though a terrific lawyer, is a lousy politician.

    This observation may support your thesis, since we want judges who are skilled in the law rather than skilled at €œglad handing€. Nonetheless this is the system we live with and winning elections requires money, imagination, planning and hard work. This was no doubt known to €œLawyer A€ when he decided to run, having been through several campaigns with his wife. While helpful, it is unnecessary to be a gladhander to win an election in a county of a million people.

    I live on the west side just south of Hilliard.Aside from the few signs put out in my neighborhood by me there was not a billboard or yard sign promoting his name within miles. Rome Hilliard Road is a major traffic artery but there was absolutely nothing bearing the name of €œLawyer A€ anywhere near Rome-Hilliard Rd., Trabue Rd., Wilson Rd., Roberts Rd, Scioto-Darby Rd. or anywhere else within 3 miles of my home. It is therefore not surprising that €œLawyer B€, with the ballot friendly last name, easily carried the west side. I do not know how his campaign dollars were spent (I saw 1 T.V. commercial and heard no radio commercials featuring €œLawyer A€. I saw no billboards and only a scarce few yard signs.) He had a great TV presence but others (all elected) had much greater media presence.

    If a lawyer named €œLuper-Schuster€ can handily defeat a candidate with years of ballot presence then surely €œLawyer A€ could accomplish the same. This is my opinion, subject to change upon the acquisition of additional information, a change of mood, or on a whim. Moreover my opinions have the credibility acquired from having had a similar experience in my only venture into the political arena. I, and many, felt I was the better lawyer but I ran an underfunded, person-to-person avoidant, and politically naive campaign against a master politician and took a whipping much worse than that heaped on €œLawyer A€. Ron Plymale. P.S. While I love and respect €œLawyer A,€ you are welcome to share my opinions with him.

    (reply)
  6. Ron Plymale  November 10, 2014

    Jack: You asked for reader’s opinions and you get it. œLawyer A€ is someone I, like you, am proud to know; have tried cases with, and believe to have been the most capable candidate on the entire judicial ballot. His last name does not seem to have been a substantial impediment to his wife, who has, to my knowledge, never lost an election. My opinion is that €œlawyer A€, though a terrific lawyer, is a lousy politician.

    This observation may support your thesis, since we want judges who are skilled in the law rather than skilled at €œglad handing€. Nonetheless this is the system we live with and winning elections requires money, imagination, planning and hard work. This was no doubt known to €œLawyer A€ when he decided to run, having been through several campaigns with his wife. While helpful, it is unnecessary to be a gladhander to win an election in a county of a million people.

    I live on the west side just south of Hilliard.Aside from the few signs put out in my neighborhood by me there was not a billboard or yard sign promoting his name within miles. Rome Hilliard Road is a major traffic artery but there was absolutely nothing bearing the name of €œLawyer A€ anywhere near Rome-Hilliard Rd., Trabue Rd., Wilson Rd., Roberts Rd, Scioto-Darby Rd. or anywhere else within 3 miles of my home. It is therefore not surprising that €œLawyer B€, with the ballot friendly last name, easily carried the west side. I do not know how his campaign dollars were spent (I saw 1 T.V. commercial and heard no radio commercials featuring €œLawyer A€. I saw no billboards and only a scarce few yard signs.) He had a great TV presence but others (all elected) had much greater media presence.

    If a lawyer named €œLuper-Schuster€ can handily defeat a candidate with years of ballot presence then surely €œLawyer A€ could accomplish the same. This is my opinion, subject to change upon the acquisition of additional information, a change of mood, or on a whim. Moreover my opinions have the credibility acquired from having had a similar experience in my only venture into the political arena. I, and many, felt I was the better lawyer but I ran an underfunded, person-to-person avoidant, and politically naive campaign against a master politician and took a whipping much worse than that heaped on €œLawyer A€. Ron Plymale. P.S. While I love and respect €œLawyer A,€ you are welcome to share my opinions with him.

    (reply)
  7. James Zitesman  November 10, 2014

    You hit the nail on the head! Certain last names = election victory. Good article, too bad it has to be written.

    (reply)
  8. James Zitesman  November 10, 2014

    You hit the nail on the head! Certain last names = election victory. Good article, too bad it has to be written.

    (reply)
  9. Bruce Lackey  November 12, 2014

    I do not vote for judges or issues if I do not have an opinion. My opinion on judges is influenced by people such as yourself and the bar ratings. I agree that there is a better way to fill the bench with good people, but uncertain as to how to do it.

    And to save time; I have had an annual physical since college or about 20 years now….

    (reply)
  10. Bruce Lackey  November 12, 2014

    I do not vote for judges or issues if I do not have an opinion. My opinion on judges is influenced by people such as yourself and the bar ratings. I agree that there is a better way to fill the bench with good people, but uncertain as to how to do it.

    And to save time; I have had an annual physical since college or about 20 years now….

    (reply)

Add a Comment

Your email address will not be published and your last name is optional.