Some states say voters should not decide who's on the bench
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. —
Next Tuesday's ballot has a large number of judicial races. Some of the names you may never have even heard of. To run for judge in Alabama, a candidate only has to have practiced law for five years. How do you as a voter know if they're qualified? Will you vote straight party? Critics of electing judges say voters are simply not informed enough to make good decisions.
Like many voters, Kristian Cooper knew virtually nothing about the judicial candidates in past elections. That won't happen again. "Know who you are voting for, do your research," advises Cooper.
Ironically it was a judge Cooper voted for that she says ruled against her in family court with no legal justification. "I've never seen an individual so careless, so evil, so hurtful," says a tearful Cooper.
"I guarantee most people voting have no idea who the judges are," says retired Federal Judge John Carroll. He says many voters take the easy route voting straight ticket for all Republicans or all Democrats.
Defense Attorney Richard Jaffe supports taking politics and all that campaign money out of the selection process. "Right now we're voting in the dark," says Jaffe. He's among those favoring a merit system similar to the Missouri Plan adopted in some form by 34 states. Alabama is not one of them.
"Is it perfect? Of course not. But in my view it's better than running and winning as a democrat or republican," remarks Jaffe.
Here's how it works: a nonpartisan commission reviews candidates for appointment. Then voters decide whether to retain them in the next election. But Judge Carroll says there's no incentive for politicians to make changes when they are the party in power.
Kristian Cooper says she's now an advocate for change, using social media to educate others. She is hoping her case will be reviewed by another judge.
Critics of a merit type plan for selection of judges say it too can become political and once appointed, judges often stay on the bench for life.