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Too Much Democracy:

Tuesday's defeat of a sitting judge in California by a seemingly far less qualified candidate is a rarity. But the underlying mechanism is not:

Political consultants have long complained that judicial races -- particularly in a county as large as Los Angeles -- are somewhat arbitrary. Few voters have heard of any of the candidates, and yet most vote anyway. The voters' choice often comes down to the scant information in front of them in the voting booth: the candidates' names and job descriptions.

A candidate's ethnicity might thus influence things. A candidate's job title might, and often does, in favor of incumbents. Sometimes the candidate's having bought space in a slate mailer might influence things, though in sufficiently low-profile races even that's likely to have little effect. (A slate mailer is a political mass mailing that promotes a slate of candidates from the Governor on down, a slate that's often united chiefly by the candidates' willingness to pay money to be included in the slate mailing.)

Direct democracy is likely to yield good results only to the extent that the voters are actually likely to have meaningful information about the candidates. And voters, being rational people, aren't going to spend much time -- or often any time -- researching every candidate for every judgeship, community college district seat, and the like.

At least with ballot measures there are meaningful arguments in the ballot pamphlet, and the voters can use imprecise but tolerably helpful proxies to help them make the decision. With statewide ballot measures, there's also a decent amount of advertising and relatively memorable editorializing. Not so with most of the down-ticket races. Perhaps in a few cases there might be scandals that cause some trial judge to be duly removed from office by the voters. But that happens very rarely; most of the time the voters' choices are based on virtually no information.

One possible solution is to have races be partisan. At least then one can use party affiliation as a decent (though admittedly imperfect) proxy for a candidate's likely beliefs, and count on the party to do some direct or indirect screening of its representatives (at least at the general election). I'm pretty sure that this is much better than nonpartisan voting for local executive and legislative races, though in some heavily one-party cities it would make more sense to try to develop local parties beyond just the Democrats and the Republicans.

But if we think that partisan races for judicial office are bad -- I'm not sure about that, and I know some states have partisan judicial races, but for now let's assume they are -- then it's much better to have a purely appointed judiciary than an elected one. And if you do want elections for judges, at least limit them to the very few positions where the voters are likely to pay attention, such as state supreme court positions.

Incidentally, I'm told that the L.A. bar association puts out ratings of judicial candidates. Unfortunately, I'd only heard about this recently, and forgot to look into it in time. My error (which led me not to vote on any of the judicial candidates) -- but if even I made this error, and didn't have the association's endorsements in my voting booth, how many nonlawyers voters do you think had those endorsements in their voting booths?

Incidentally, when we all start voting more from our home computers, the situation might change, mostly (I think) for the better but possibly for the worse -- with home computer voting, we might at least be able to easily integrate various groups' recommendations into our own votes. I discuss this possibility in this short article. But if such a system isn't implemented (and in any event until that system is implemented), I think that voting for many down-ticket races, especially nonpartisan down-ticket races, is too much democracy.

Tom952 (mail):
A large number of voters in Florida simply check "Y" to ballot initiatives. This became clear when the electorate approved an initiative for supposedly more "humane" treatment of pigs, even though there are only two pig farms in the state. This initiative affected hardly anyone, yet it passed.

The winning strategy is to structure your ballot initiative so that a "Y" vote yields the desired outcome. Don't ask Florida voters to vote "N" on anything. Maybe it is a polite vote.

PC voting creates the opportunity to inquire into the candidates and issues as you vote, but voters must care enough to do so for it to improve the process.
6.8.2006 3:15pm
Steve:
I think the best system is to have appointed judges, but hold retention elections where the vote is simply yes/no to extend the judge's term. Some states (I think Missouri may be one) do it this way.

When I lived in Chicago I remember having to mark my ballot for dozens upon dozens of judicial races. There's simply no way this can result in a meaningful election.
6.8.2006 3:29pm
Frank Drackmann (mail):
I bet the pigs were happy anyway.
6.8.2006 3:31pm
AppSocRes (mail):
Joseph Schumpeter suggested that the primary process of democracy is not selecting persons to fill offices, but ensuring that truly unpopular and/or incompetent persons will eventually be removed from office ("throw the bums out"). This seems to have worked rather satisfactorily in California, where a well-orchestrated campaign was able to remove the notorious Rose Bird from her perch on the State supreme court. On the other hand, thanks to John Adams, the selection and removal of judges in Massachusetts is almost completely removed from public participation. As a result, the Commonwealth has provided a plethora of appalling examples of judicial incompetence and over-reaching.
6.8.2006 3:35pm
Allen Asch (mail) (www):
I don't like judicial elections. I believe judging should be insulated from political (even popular/democratic) pressure. If anything, judicial elections should be one-candidate, keep-or-not-keep elections. Having candidates run against each other makes it even worse.

I was appalled recently to see the Sacramento Bee come out against a judge in front of whom I had personally practiced. For more info, see the following links.

Sac Bee editorial opposing judge here: Placer's renegade judge

My letter to the editor here: A good-hearted judge

The happy outcome here: Superior Court judge keeps seat despite controversy
6.8.2006 3:35pm
Traveler:
Eugene,

I'm not sure I credit your claim that "the underlying mechanism is not" rare, when you're discussing the problems of a "county as large as Los Angeles." I believe Los Angeles County is actually the *largest* county by population -- and one of the largest by area -- in the entire country. And given that many non-partisan offices are elected below the county level, I'm not convinced this is such a big problem.

I know many people - especially those outside the educated-elite, who are quite thorough about reading the information on candidates delivered through mailers, community newspapers, etc. -- and taking it with them on Election Day. In one recent local election, held in an elementary school near my residence, I assisted the poll workers in swapping out an overflowing newspaper-recycling garbage can - overflowing because so many people had discarded their community newspaper election supplement there.
6.8.2006 3:36pm
kdonovan:
Tom - In CA the prevailing CW is that voters who are uncertain vote no on initiatives.

As for judicial elections, I would usually look at who endorsed them - DA, PD, etc. plus any statement including bio-sketch they put in the voter information booklet that comes with the sample ballot. You can usually use this to form a rough estimate of their ideology and competence. In NV I would ask around among lawyers to find out their impression of the candidates.

That said I think there is lot of merit to the idea of appointments - you can then vote on the candidate to reward or punish their behavior in appointing competent and ideologically acceptable officials. (For this reason I favor systems that have the mayor appoint department heads rather then electing then separately - I think separate elections of officials makes it easier for narrow interests to capture the boards, commissions, etc. of a city.) Thus I think idea of professional boards appointing officers is terrible - it results in public officials who serve a guild rather than the broader public interest.

Kevin
6.8.2006 3:45pm
UCLA Law Alum:
I guess I'm the only person who likes judicial elections, and who is unhappy that California allows contested elections only for the Superior Court, and not the Courts of Appeal or the Supreme Court.
6.8.2006 3:46pm
frankcross (mail):
Once again, there's research here that shows how ill-informed voters are. In one case, voters were asked, immediately after voting if they had no information, insufficient information, or sufficient information about the judicial candidates. The most common answer was "no information"! Yet they voted on the question. Other research has polled those who voted and found that a surprisingly small number of voters can even name the candidate that they just voted for to judicial office.
6.8.2006 3:48pm
Silicon Valley Jim:
A large number of voters in Florida simply check "Y" to ballot initiatives. This became clear when the electorate approved an initiative for supposedly more "humane" treatment of pigs, even though there are only two pig farms in the state. This initiative affected hardly anyone, yet it passed.

This is clearly an example of democracy going hog wild.
6.8.2006 3:49pm
Bill N:
A couple of thoughts: first, why would someone with $100,000 to spare give up her obviously rather lucrative bagel shop gig for what I expect would be a substantial pay cut. This is hardly a prestige position.

also:
"one can use party affiliation as a decent (though admittedly imperfect) proxy for a candidate's likely beliefs, and count on the party to do some direct or indirect screening of its representatives (at least at the general election"--

This is exactly the argument that opponents of non-partisan balloting made in the Progressive Era. Voters expected parties to put qualified people up for the bench, and believed that parties could be punished if they ran bad judges. One commentator in the Cincinnati Commercial Tribune in 1910 said, "It is accepted that the doctrine of party responsibility is fundamental in our form of government. The people know how to hit a bad judge...through the party that put him on the ticket."

In addition, it was assumed at the turn of the century that the only way for a voter to know anything at all about the judge was to know the judge's party. The non-partisan ballot, leaving voters confused, led to a substantial drop off in the number of voters casting ballots in judicial elections, and more direct advertising and campaigning by judges.
6.8.2006 3:52pm
Hans Gruber (www):
The current mayor of LA is a graduate of an unaccredited law school, and has failed the bar four times. I will be waiting for the article that talks about this "failure of democracy." It seems to me the real reason she lost is that she was a Republican in an increasingly Democratic county. LA voters prefer progressive incompetents to conservative credentials. That's democracy.
6.8.2006 3:52pm
Mark F. (mail):
The general view at my law firm is that the elected judges are inferior to the appointed ones.
6.8.2006 3:54pm
Silicon Valley Jim:
A large number of voters in Florida simply check "Y" to ballot initiatives. This became clear when the electorate approved an initiative for supposedly more "humane" treatment of pigs, even though there are only two pig farms in the state.

More likely that there were only two pig farms affected by the measure. The USDA says that there are approximately 1,500 pig farms in Florida.

6.8.2006 3:58pm
alkali (mail) (www):
AppSocRes writes:

[T]hanks to John Adams, the selection and removal of judges in Massachusetts is almost completely removed from public participation. As a result, the Commonwealth has provided a plethora of appalling examples of judicial incompetence and over-reaching.

Over-reaching is a matter of opinion I don't care to take up, but incompetence? That's silly. Massachusetts state judges are by and large as good as the judges on the federal bench (who, for that matter, are appointed in a substantially similar way).
6.8.2006 4:02pm
Christopher Cooke (mail):
Having read the article, it seems plausible that the judge lost re-election because

(a) her opponent (Olson) out-spent the judge two-to-one, including using a "slate-mailer" targeted at 50,000 Democratic voters;

(b) the challenger was endorsed by the LA County Democratic Party, whereas the judge was a Republican, in a heavily Democratic part of LA County.

So, you might chalk this up to the voters' partisanship, as much as ignorance. Given the Republican party's nationwide and much publicized effort to control the judiciary to get it to enact their political agenda, maybe voters in LA County think that judicial offices are really partisan offices too, and voted along party lines.

For a better example of voter ignorance influencing judicial elections, I think you should look to a Washington State Supreme Court judicial election a few years ago, in which the winning candidate was a virtual unknown but had the same name as a famous local TV newscaster, and he defeated the Chief Justice (I believe).
6.8.2006 4:17pm
stealthlawprof (mail) (www):
I am not sure having partisan elections would help. Certainly my friends in Texas always bemoan their partisan races for judicial office. In this case, the less qualified candidate was endorsed by the Democrats, and that may have been a factor in her victory. A partisan ballot would assure that the dominant party's candidates would win, but in this era of open primaries, would it guarantee that the dominant party would only nominate qualified candidates? (Count me among the doubters.)

The yes/no retention vote system would seem to be a better choice -- assuring some control over judges who are completely out of step but not sinking to the totally random level of votes based on the spelling of a candidate's name.
6.8.2006 4:47pm
Michelle Dulak Thomson (mail):
I do wish that civic education in the public schools made it clear that there's no shame in leaving an item on a ballot blank if you know nothing about any of the candidates. Eugene is right: Lots of people are voting for candidates they know nothing about but the name, and really appointed judges would seem preferable.

AppSocRes brings up Rose Bird. I don't know that she was "notorious," but certainly she was widely disliked. OTOH, she was also about, what, twenty years ago, and I don't remember a judical campaign in CA since that raised even substantial local interest.

Count me among the people flummoxed by Tom952's contention that Florida voters routinely vote "yes" on initiatives. Here in CA people lately (sensibly) vote "no" on initiatives whose ramifications aren't clear to them. The exceptions are things that press people's particular buttons. That's how we got Prop. 13 of old; more recently Prop. 187 (struck down) and Prop. 209 and whatever "Three Strikes" was. I think people are regretting the last (and a lot regret aspects of 13, not that they'd go so far as to try to repeal it seriously). But majorities have rejected pretty well every other initiative for several years. Schwarzenegger's four all lost, and so did the two this year. Californians are belatedly skeptical of their Government's being able to accomplish anything merely because the law says it's required to.
6.8.2006 4:57pm
Been There, Done That:
This is the most telling quote:

"I targeted Janavs because of her political affiliation, time on the bench and what I hear about her from people in the legal community," Olson said, referring to Janavs' reputation for courtroom gruffness.

I haven't appeared before Janavs so cannot opine on her, but I've appeared before some other judges whose behavior has been less than professional. Few attorneys are eager to publicize their dislike of a particular judge, but some judges are wildly unpopular. It is always the same small bunch.

In California, parties have one peremptory challenge against a Superior Court judge, I believe its under CCP 179.6. The clerk's office keeps records of who the most challenged judges are, but in recent years, if you DQ a judge, you're likely to get another one of the unpopular ones. I wonder where Janavs was on the list or if she was easy to DQ considering the emergency nature of so much of her docket.

Appointed systems have a way of catching up to judges as well. In Virginia, a very long serving and politically connected judge was not re-appointed in Arlington County a few years back. It made some news. There was reportedly agreement that ideology and legal acumen were not factors in the decision.
6.8.2006 5:02pm
logicnazi (mail) (www):
This is just one more example of the problems in direct democracy. People just can't/don't spend enough time to thoroughly inform themselves on the issues. This problem becomes particularly acute when technical/domain specific issues or expertise is on the line. It is almost absurd to be able to expect the public at large to be able to evaluate the abilities of individuals for scientific advisory boards or judgeships. If the public knew enough to discriminate real experts from alleged experts then they wouldn't need an expert in the fist place.

This problem is a critical one because as our society becomes more and more technologically based the importance of scientific and technical experts in setting government policy increase. Perhaps it is okay to have a half-assed selection mechanism for local judges whose decisions impact a limited number of people but if someone is going to set a national policy on nano-technology or GM foods the impact of getting it wrong (in either direction) are huge and the issues are even harder for the layman to get a grip on. Allowing these people to be appointed rather than elected is a slight improvement but as some of president Bush's appointments to the (lead?) advisory board have demonstrated still leaves us vulnerable to politically motivated appointments.

The easiest solution would just be for the public to put their trust in advisory organizations which could expend the resources to evaluate the various candidates on the merits. While this happens to some degree in judicial elections like this the American public doesn't seem very inclined to accept outside guidance like this about their votes. Worse there are serious problems distinguishing the credible organizations to trust from the fronts set up by industries or political lobbies.

Luckily the Framers considered this problem and came up with a good answer, indirect election. For positions that require expertise we should go back to using something like the electoral college. That is the voters should vote on individuals whose judgments they trust who can then evaluate prospective office holders taking the time and effort necessary to really evaluate their ability. Unlike the electoral college I suspect such a system won't collapse into a complicated direct election scheme because of the type of offices being considered. Also additional safeguards could be built in (laws baring electors from pledging to vote for any particular candidate, rules requiring a supermajority of electors and thus fostering compromise).

Indirect elections were a good idea. I think it's a shame they have such a bad rap now.
6.8.2006 5:02pm
JoeNik:
Democracy is messy and rarely does the most qualified person win. Usually the most qualified person doesn't even run for election. The same arguements you are using about judicial elections could be used for all other offices including President of the US. However, experiance shows that the further an official is from being directly elected, the more distainful of the public he becomes. Do we really want our judges to treat the public as badly as the "civil servants" at the DMV?
6.8.2006 5:10pm
Attila (Pillage Idiot) (mail) (www):
Appointed judges are generally better, but I think the legal establishment, which is behind most appointments through "merit selection," leans way left, so (in my view) it's a mixed blessing.

Also: In large parts of the country covered by the Voting Rights Act, if a state wished to move from judicial elections to an appointive judiciary, citing the reasoning of The Federalist, you can bet the whole VRA mechanism, including litigation, would be brought to bear.
6.8.2006 5:15pm
frankcross (mail):
It's not really true that the same arguments on judges could be applied to all other offices. As I indicated, the research suggests that people are much more poorly informed about judges than about some other elections, such as President or Senator.

Realistically, some government offices will be elected but not all. How should they be differentiated? It seems like one basic standard is whether the office is sufficiently salient to the public that they would be willing to inform themselves about the candidates before voting.
6.8.2006 5:30pm
Cornellian (mail):
I think electing judges is fundamentally inconsistent with the role of a judge to apply the law regardless of public opinion. They should be appointed, not necessarily in a fashion identical to federal judges, but appointed in some fashion.
6.8.2006 5:35pm
Cornellian (mail):
Having now just read the story, I think it proves my point that judicial elections are a bad idea. Now a highly regarded judge is replaced by a woman who runs a bagel shop. I'm glad I won't be appearing in that court.
6.8.2006 5:42pm
Christopher Cooke (mail):
Partisan judicial elections are a bad idea. As an attorney, I would hope that the judge before whom I appear would be able to put his or her politics aside in ruling on matters involving my clients. Making the judicial office into an openly "partisan" position makes the judge occupying that office beholden to a political party, and less likely to be independent of political influence. Also, as may have happened in Los Angeles, in a "partisan" election, many voters will simply vote for the candidate from their party, regardless of the candidates' individual qualifications.
6.8.2006 5:51pm
R. Gould-Saltman (mail):
Sez Gruber:


The current mayor of LA is a graduate of an unaccredited law school, and has failed the bar four times. I will be waiting for the article that talks about this "failure of democracy." It seems to me the real reason she lost is that she was a Republican in an increasingly Democratic county. LA voters prefer progressive incompetents to conservative credentials. That's democracy


Yes, gosh darn those nasty Hermosa Beach commies!

Let's see. The current mayor of Los Angeles didn't run for a judicial position, and under California law, isn't eligible to sit in Superior Court. Other than the fact that Olson paid to appear on some Democratic slate mailers, and Janavs appeared on (a smaller number) of Republican slate mailers, I invite Gruber, or any beyond about 1-2% of the folks who voted in this particular seat election, to tell me ANYTHING they know about EITHER candidate's views on ANY political issues. I have SOME knowledge of Janav's views on some issues, because, unlike probably 99+% of the electorate, I at least know some lawyers who've actually appeared before her on substantive issues several times (generally, writs/receivers judges do NOT get to make politically "sexy" decisions that get them in the papers). If Olson was elected because of her "progressive" views, they're news to me, after reading every interview of her I've been able to find since election day.

My vote for plausible explanation goes not with the "xenophobia" theory (lack of sufficient evidence) but with generally explicitly Republican-generated anti-judiciary public sentiment.(the White House push for a constitutional amendment on marriage being only the example that comes to mind most promptly...)
6.8.2006 5:53pm
Bob Woolley:
Nobody has yet asked the interesting psychological/sociological question: *Why* do people vote in races in which they have no interest and/or information? If I don't know the difference between two candidates for, say, the county water board, I don't vote for either one. But obviously many--perhaps most--voters do. I don't understand that. What drives somebody to pick one person over another on the basis of nothing more than a wild guess about the candidate based on the name? I just don't get it. Is it ego, not wanting to admit to onesself that one can't make an intelligent choice? Social pressure, from all the "just vote" ads? Fear of looking stupid if the election judge notices a blank spot?

Maybe 20 years ago in Illinois, a Lyndon Larouche follower won the party primary for secretary of state, probably because she had a very common name (Johnson, or something like that), while the politically normal opponent had an unusual name, some sort of Eastern European ethnicity, as I recall. It was a mystery to me then, and remains so now, why so many people would vote based on a name....
6.8.2006 6:15pm
Cornellian (mail):
The current mayor of LA is a graduate of an unaccredited law school, and has failed the bar four times. I will be waiting for the article that talks about this "failure of democracy." It seems to me the real reason she lost is that she was a Republican in an increasingly Democratic county. LA voters prefer progressive incompetents to conservative credentials. That's democracy.

That argument would only make sense if Villaraigosa had been running for judge rather than mayor. There is virtually no overlap between the skill set of a mayor and the skill set of a judge. The fact that he graduated from an undistinguished law school and failed the bar four times says nothing about whether he'll be a good mayor. And conversely, I can't help saying, the fact that you can win elections says nothing about whether you'll be a good judge.
6.8.2006 6:30pm
Tom952 (mail):
Silicon Valley Jim,
Yes, more accurately there were two farms affected by the initiative.

To me, it makes sense to vote "N" unless I see a reason to vote "Y". Obviously, I'm out of step down here.

From Here we get
"A Farm Sanctuary study showed pigs kept in crates may suffer psychological disorders ..."

I wish I could write grants to fund studies like that.
6.8.2006 6:42pm
Houston Lawyer:
We've had elected judges here in Texas since Reconstruction. It never seem to bother anyone until around 1994, when all of the Harris County judges elected were Republican.

Yes, a few stinkers get in from time to time, but the Republican party is pretty good about finding a primary opponent for such cases. Judges who have to face the voters from time to time are far less likely to be tyrants.
6.8.2006 6:53pm
Silicon Valley Jim:
Tom952 -

That was the PETAmaniacs behind that one, right? (A PETAmaniac is, of course, a billion times as bad as a megalomaniac).
6.8.2006 6:54pm
Gordo:
The appointment/retention election system used for California's higher court judges would seem to me to be the best system for balancing the different factors in election vs. appointment of state court judges. As was pointed out, it was used to remove Rose Bird in 1986, so it can work.
6.8.2006 8:01pm
frankcross (mail):
Houston Lawyer, why wouldn't judges who face election be more likely to be majoritarian tyrants.

Elections reflect a considerable distrust of the judiciary, accompanied by legal realism. I think there is some truth to this critique but it assumes that the public can successfully correct it.

And I suspect Houston Lawyer may even remember the recent case where the Republican Party of Texas put all its weight into a primary candidate for the judiciary, only to see him lose, apparently because he had a Latino surname.
6.8.2006 8:15pm
Christopher Cooke (mail):
Houston Lawyer, wasn't there a press scandal in Texas, several years ago, involving members of, or candidates for, its Supreme Court accepting campaign contributions from litigants who had cases pending before the Court?
6.8.2006 8:23pm
Hans Gruber (www):
"That argument would only make sense if Villaraigosa had been running for judge rather than mayor."

So dolts can make law just fine, they just can't interpret it or administer it? Great argument. I'm not one to belittle where somebody went to college, but the fact that he failed the bar four separate times before giving up doesn't inspire confidence. Maybe he is a fine mayor. I don't know. And maybe the Bagel Queen will be great judge. So what? I don't know of any reason to demand more intellect from judges than mayors, governors or presidents. I don't know about you, but I'd be happier with a President Alito or Roberts than President Bush. Interpreting the law isn't any more intellectually challenging than making it--judges should not be some sort of priesthood. If elitism is good, then it's good for more than just judges. If it's bad, then it's bad for judges too. The distinction does not make sense. And, yes, we can separate intelligence from specfic skills or experience, but the two do correlate.
6.8.2006 8:29pm
PersonFromPorlock:
The appointment/retention election system would probably be a dandy way of keeping college administrators honest, too.
6.8.2006 8:29pm
Cornellian (mail):
Houston Lawyer, wasn't there a press scandal in Texas, several years ago, involving members of, or candidates for, its Supreme Court accepting campaign contributions from litigants who had cases pending before the Court?

Is that a scandal, or just standard practice in states where judges are elected?
6.8.2006 8:30pm
Christopher Cooke (mail):
Well, here is a link to a report by a group called Texans for Public Justice, on various media reports about the influence of campaign contributions on the Texas Supreme Court:

http://www.campaignfinance.org/tracker/Summer98/2wheat.html.

The allegations that I remembered were from the 60 minutes story referenced in the report.
6.8.2006 9:19pm
Cornellian (mail):
Hans,

Intellect isn't the sole or even the most important criterion for a good politician. He can't be an idiot of course, but I'd rather have a reasonably intelligent person who's also honest, a good judge of character and knows how to deal with people than a genius who has none of those other qualities.

Ability to pass the bar exam is not a proxy for intelligence. At best it's a proxy for being able to memorize a lot of stuff and regurgitate it over a three day period. The fact that Villaraigosa failed the bar exam four times doesn't mean he's an idiot, it only means he's not good at writing bar exams, which is hardly a disqualification for being a mayor - completely different skill set.
6.8.2006 9:41pm
unhyphenatedconservative (mail):
Now a highly regarded judge is replaced by a woman who runs a bagel shop.

Yeah. Damned petit bourgeoise, getting above their station. How dare one of the robed masters be dethroned!
6.8.2006 9:43pm
Austin Lawyer:
I strongly favor the appointment of judges. But if a state chooses to go the elective route (as here in Texas), I think it is probably better that the races be partisan. There are two principal objections to judicial elections: voter ignorance and the real or apparent corruption arising from judges having to solicit campaign contributions. Neither of these problems is alleviated by nonpartisan elections. In fact, nonpartisan elections may make them worse. Party affiliation says something about the candidate that is at least arguably relevant to whether he or she is qualified to be a judge. And because the candidate can ride the coattails of the party and better known candidates at the top of the ballot, there is a less pressing need to raise money to buy name identification.
6.8.2006 9:57pm
Hans Gruber (www):
Cornellian, of course it's not absolute. But neither is the fact this woman ran a bagel shop! For all we know, she may be the next Holmes. Villaraigosa may be the next Abe Lincoln.

The fact that Villaraigosa failed the bar four times is at least as valuable in predicting his performance as a "reasonably intelligent" leader as this woman's lack of experience is in predicting her potential aptitude as a judge.

I disagree that the ability to pass the bar exam is not correlated with intelligence. I find it hard to believe that somebody with, say, an IQ over 120 who is reasonably motivated would have trouble passing the bar exam, especially given multiple attempts. Sure there are exceptions. But they are exceptions.

It may sound like I am trying to disparage Villaraigosa but I'm not. I am just saying that democracy often produces outcomes that puzzle. The best man or woman doesn't always win. I personally don't see why it's acceptable for POTUS but not for a state judge. Where can more damage be done? I don't get the selectivity of the elitism that is so common in the legal community; individuals that happily vote for Villaraigosa but are then appalled when one of their own, even a Republican, loses to a bagel shop owner! The horror! Lawyers need to get over themselves. Lawyers are not the high priesthood of civilization.
6.9.2006 12:56am
Can't find a good name:
Bob: The LaRouche candidates who won the Democratic primaries in Illinois in 1986 were Mark Fairchild (for lieutenant governor) and Janice Hart (for secretary of state). Their party-regular opponents were George Sangmeister and Aurelia Pucinski, respectively.
6.9.2006 1:43am
Lev:
The main problem with judicial elections is that the candidates are pretty much prohibited from saying anything that is particularly substantive - they can't really campaign.

As a result, we have to rely on Bar polls, background, newpaper editorial recommendations, literature by "interested organizations", and party affiliation to differentiate between candidates...and newspaper reports of whatever scandals they happen to get themselves into. It is rather haphazard.
6.9.2006 2:10am
Lev:
Oh, right...the biggest problems are actually:

1. people who shouldn't be voting because they are dangers to themselves and others, and

2. the dead, the noncitizens, the multiple voters etc.
6.9.2006 2:13am
NickM (mail) (www):
Olson outspent Judge Janavs by a margin of roughly 4 to 1, not 2 to 1. [Olson and her husband put in at least $120,000 in personal funds, not counting other contributions. Judge Janavs raised and spent approximately $35,000, with most of her contributions coming from other judges.] This occurred even though Olson began her campaign having filed a FPPC Form 470, in which the candidate declares under penalty of perjury that they intend to raise and spend less than $1000 on their campaign. Olson acknowledged to the Daily Breeze yesterday that her declaration was a lie for political purposes: "Olson told the Metropolitan News-Enterprise when she took out nomination papers that she didn't plan to spend any money on her campaign. However, she acknowledged Wednesday that was a political strategy designed to encourage Janavs not to take fund-raising seriously." http://www.dailybreeze.com/news/articles/2999186.html

Olson's consultant, Fred Huebscher, is best known as a slate mailer operator. Olson used her campaign funds to buy not only the Democrat slate mailers, but also the Republican ones - even the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association mailer! Of the mass slate mailers I received (and I'm a high propensity GOP voter in L.A. County), Janavs appeared on none of them.

I still have some of the slate mailers handy. Here's the relevant text from the Citizens for Representative Government slate mailer (published for decades by GOP consultant Allan Hoffenblum):

Superior Court Office 120
LYNN DIANE OLSON*
Attorney at Law
She's well qualified, tough, fair, and honest. Join Los Angeles Republicans in voting for Lynn Olson . . . the Republicans choice!


[The asterisk is required by law to be placed next to the name of a candidate who has paid for and authorized their appearance on the mailer.]

This text is intentionally deceptive, and is designed to convince Republican voters that Lynn Olson is a Republican and is endorsed by the Republican Party.

Olson is off to a truly inauspicious start - she committed perjury and engaged in misleading campaign tactics in order to win a judicial race. Judges are supposed to be held to a higher standard than that.

Disclosure: I appeared before Judge Janavs in one case seeking a TRO (without notice, on the ground that notice would cause the defendant to flee the jurisdiction). I lost.

Nick
6.9.2006 3:37pm
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6.10.2006 4:15am