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Examiner
  • Ken Garten: Keep politics out of selecting judges

  • Missouri is the originator of a widely followed judicial selection process that has been copied in many states. Aptly called the Missouri Plan, our state judges in the appellate courts and metropolitan areas do not run for office like politicians but are vetted by a committee of lawyers and citizens, with one of three nominees from that process being appointed by the governor.

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  • Missouri is the originator of a widely followed judicial selection process that has been copied in many states. Aptly called the Missouri Plan, our state judges in the appellate courts and metropolitan areas do not run for office like politicians but are vetted by a committee of lawyers and citizens, with one of three nominees from that process being appointed by the governor.
    The idea is to keep the influences of money and politics out of the judicial branch of government. The problem is that a group of people with lots of money to influence politicians also wants the Missouri Plan changed or abolished so that they can use that money to influence judges, too. This has been something of a national effort by a group of big money players around the country. And, where better to focus their efforts than in the state where the Missouri Plan originated?
    These attempts to manipulate the Missouri Plan, funded largely by big money, out-of-state interests, have been heating up recently in Missouri. The latest salvo is SJR 51, which would modify the plan to decrease the independence of the vetting committee and increase the control of politicians and the people who donate to their campaigns.
    More disappointing is that my very own representative in the state Senate, Will Kraus, is supporting SJR 51. Thus, I felt compelled drop Senator Kraus an email to voice my disappointment and disagreement.
    Here is Senator Kraus’ response:
    “I can understand why you all are very frustrated with my vote in committee. I can tell you I am frustrated when I hear judges award unemployment benefits to a person that falls asleep at work or a person that violently clears files off the top of a filing cabinet. I also question how the appellant (sic) judges draw two unconstitutional maps. Someone must question the current system when we have situations like I mentioned above. No system in perfect and we need to make improvements over time.  
    My door is always open,
    Will Kraus”
    My reply to the senator:
    There have always been and always will be cases from the courts here and there that can be summarized in a way that may incite outrage by those who would seek to justify measures to weaken, control or attack the judicial branch of government. Sometimes that summary tells the true story. Oftentimes it does not. It is a classic tactic of a group of incredibly rich political players, many from out of state, who are dumping obscene sums of money into legislative coffers in an attempt to transform the judiciary into a political body subject to influence by those with the money to purchase same.
    I have practiced law full time in the Missouri courts for 27 years. I have tried and handled more cases than I can count. The most important characteristic for good judges is to have the courage and freedom to be fair, follow the law and decide matters before them impartially. By and large, the good judges of this state do an extraordinary job of that. Measures like SJR 51 are intended to interject political influence and money – and you cannot in good conscience deny that the two are irreversibly intertwined – into the courts.
    Page 2 of 2 - You admit in your response that you can understand “why (we) all are very frustrated by (your) vote” on this issue. If that is truly the case, then do the right thing as our elected representative; reverse your field on this issue, and divorce yourself from the policies espoused by the big money, out-of-state interests that are funding this attack on our judicial processes.
    Thank you for your consideration.
    Ken Garten  
     

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