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Examiner
  • Judge selection format angers state bar president

  • Pat Starke had some sharp words for state legislators who have put an issue on the ballot to change the way judges are selected in Missouri, changes that critics say will make the process more political.

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  • Pat Starke had some sharp words for state legislators who have put an issue on the ballot to change the way judges are selected in Missouri, changes that critics say will make the process more political.
    “All this is going to do is give the governor the right to create a lot of mischief,” Starke, the president elect of the Missouri Bar, said Friday at a Blue Springs Chamber of Commerce legislative breakfast.
    The General Assembly this spring approved a measure that would limit lawyers’ roles on the panel that nominates appellate judges in the state. The governor would appoint four of the seven members, instead of the current three. Currently, the panel consists of three people named by the Missouri Bar, three named by the governor, and the chief justice of the Missouri Supreme Court. The proposed change goes to the voters later this year.
    “It’s a bad idea,” Starke said, “a real bad idea.”
    The Missouri Non-Partisan Court Plan has been on the books for 70 years, and advocates say it works well and that other states have used it as a model. The proposed change, Starke said, would give the governor “absolute control” of the selection of appellate judges.
    “The problem is when you concentrate power in any one person, it’s probably going to lead to bad results,” Starke said.
    Starke spoke at a meeting in which four area legislators gave updates from the recently concluded General Assembly session. Three of them – Sen. Will Kraus, R-Lee’s Summit, and Reps. Sheila Solon and Jeanie Lauer, both R-Blue Springs – voted for the change, while Rep. Mike Cierpiot voted against it. None spoke in response to Starke’s comments.
    Starke characterized this movement as being pushed by wealthy, out-of-state interests that are “trying to steal your court system.”
    He noted that the Blue Springs chamber and many other organizations across the state opposed putting the measure on the ballot. Defenders of the current judicial selection system say it’s largely free of politics, and they have fought for several years against changes they say would politicize the courts, such as the election of judges. (In Missouri, judges are appointed and their retention periodically goes on the ballot.)
    “And we all know politics permeates everything in Jefferson City,” Starke said.
    Julius Oswald, a local attorney and the emcee of the chamber legislative breakfasts, suggested that people traveling around the country this summer might be taken back by campaign billboards and advertising in states that have moved toward electing judges.
    “You should ask yourself: Wait a minute,” Oswald said. “Whoever’s elected is going to be tainted. ... I guess we’re going down that road.”
    The proposed changes passed largely along party lines in the legislature, but a couple dozen Republicans opposed it. In the Senate, the measure passed 19-12. All 19 yes votes, including that of Kraus, were from Republicans. Democrats all voted no, including Sen. Victor Callahan, D-Independence, and they were joined by four Republicans.
    Page 2 of 2 - It was closer in the House, passing 84-71, all but one of the 84 yes votes coming from Republicans, including Lauer and Solon. However, Cierpiot and fellow Republicans Noel Torpey and Brent Lasater, both of Independence, voted no, as did Democrats Tom McDonald and Ira Anders, both of Independence. In all 51 Democrats and 20 Republicans voted no.
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