An umpire for judicial elections | Arkansas Blog

Friday, June 8, 2012

An umpire for judicial elections

Posted By on Fri, Jun 8, 2012 at 8:31 AM

JUSTICE ROBERT BROWN
  • JUSTICE ROBERT BROWN
A task force on judicial campaign reform is reporting this week to the Arkansas Judicial Council and the Arkansas Bar Association on its conclusion of a studyon steps to insure fair judicial campaigns. Doug Smith has written about this for the Times, including in a November cover story. Associate Justice Robert Brown has led the effort.

The recommendation is a nonprofit group to monitor judicial election ads that could deliberate and ask candidates to take down misleading advertising. The group would have only non-binding moral, rather than legal, weight. Candidates could voluntarily pledge to be ethical.

The full report follows on the jump.

The question: Could a do-good group's report dissuade the billionaires' media blast when they've decided the race was important enough, as when a coal company outright bought a Supreme Court race in West Virginia? The answer is in the history books.

We have laws against legislators lobbying for example, but some sitting ones are already hard at work on activities that resemble lobbying a great deal. See retired UCA music teacher and senator Gilbert Baker, who's emerged as the go-to spokesman for what's right — at least in Republican legal theory — on courts, judicial elections and "legislating from the bench." (Legislating is good when you like the outcome — anything that sets back plaintiffs' lawyers.) Expect to see Baker on somebody's payroll in this effort after Jan. 1. Baker made friendly noises today about appointment of judges, a sure sign that the business community and Republicans like the looks of the future for the "right" sort of people being in charge of the appointment process.

June 5, 2012

To: Tom Womack, President

Arkansas Bar Association and

Judge Ralph Wilson, President

Arkansas Judicial Council

Re: Report by the Task Force on Judicial Campaign Reform

This Report is made to the Board of Governors of the Arkansas Bar Association and to the Board of the Arkansas Judicial Council.

On December 3, 2010, Chief Justice Jim Hannah and Justice Robert L. Brown addressed the Board of Governors of the Arkansas Bar Association and requested that a Task Force be authorized and appointed to address reform in judicial elections. Of particular concern were the false advertisements being run by well financed third parties and Super Pacs. The fear was that these false ads, which have been run in judicial election races in other states, would appear in Arkansas.

In January 2011, following the authorization of the Task Force by the Board of Governors of the Arkansas Bar Association, then President of the Bar Jim Julian appointed the initial members of the Task Force. Eighteen members of the Task Force were appointed by President Julian and successive Bar President Tom Womack. Justice Robert L. Brown was appointed chair.

Since that time, the Task Force has met twelve times as a full body and multiple subcommittee conferences have been held in person and by telephone conference. A wide panoply of issues has been discussed and evaluated by the Task Force, including:

* Voters Guide of judicial candidates to be made available to the voting public.

* A Pledge by judicial candidates to abide by the Arkansas Code of Judicial Conduct and the spirit of the code and to disavow false advertisements.

* A rapid response team for false advertisements by judicial candidates and third parties.

* Public financing of judicial campaigns.

* Limits on “bundled” campaign contributions to candidates.

* Recusals by Judges due to excessive campaign contributions.

* Returning the run off date for judicial elections to June.

An “instant run-off” system to eliminate the need for run-offs in judicial races.

The Task Force received expert views by conference call from David Rottman with the National Center on State Courts, Damon Circosta with the North Carolina Center for Voter Education, Bill Fortune with the University of Kentucky School of Law, and Mark White, a former president of the Alabama Bar Association. Bill Fortune and Mark White have experience setting up monitoring committees for judicial election campaigns in their respective states. We also received public comment on the proposed reforms from the plaintiff's Bar, the defense Bar, judges, and concerned lawyers.

On March 14, 2012, the Administrative Office of the Courts and the Arkansas Bar Association co-sponsored a national conference on judicial campaign reforms at the Clinton Library with Roy Schotland (professor emeritus at Georgetown University School of Law), Bill Fortune, David Rottman, and former Texas Chief Justice Tom Phillips. Following that session, a panel discussion was held with Senators Gilbert Baker and Michael Lamoureux and Task Force members Justice Robert L. Brown, H. T. Moore, Nate Coulter, and Judge Ralph Wilson.

Most recently, the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals, sitting en banc, affirmed Minnesota Code of Conduct provisions forbidding endorsements of the other political candidates and the solicitation of funds from non lawyers. See Wersal v. Sexton, 674 F.3d 1010 (8th Cir. 2012).

On May 18, 2012, a quorum of the Task Force met and approved the following reforms for the 2014 judicial elections:

A non profit 501(c)(3) corporation will be incorporated as Arkansas Judicial Campaign and Education Committee, Inc. The incorporators will be the initial board of directors selected by the Task Force. The purpose of the corporation will be to foster education for the voting public in judicial races. The corporation will oversee the following programs:

- A website will be dedicated to displaying information about judicial candidates, including biographical data, photographs, personal statements, and endorsements. Established links will be to the Administrative Office of the Courts and to the Bar Association. The information will be collected from judicial candidates who choose, voluntarily, to participate as part of the guide after that candidate has filed for office.

- A team, that will be called the Judicial Fair Advertising Compliance Team (JFACT), will monitor media communications and respond as soon as possible to false communications. The team may ask for removal of the offending communication or issue a press release on the subject. Communications authorized by the candidate or by third party groups, including super PACs, will be reviewed. Bylaws of the corporation will be adopted by the initial board of directors which the Task Force anticipates will exhibit a diversity of members and will include one or more members with a press or media background. The bylaws will detail the procedure by which the team will learn about suspect advertisements and the remedies available to the team. No public funds will be used to implement this program.

- A Pledge may be signed voluntarily by the judicial candidate that he or she will abide by the letter and spirit of the Code of Judicial Conduct and disavow false communications in that candidate's favor authorized by third party groups or super PACs. No public funds will be used to implement this program.

The Task Force thanks the Board of Governors and the Board of the Judicial Council for the opportunity to participate in this effort which is of such vital importance to the future of our judiciary and to a well-informed voting public.

Submitted this 5th day of June, 2012.

Members:
Justice Robert L. Brown, Chair
Elizabeth Andreoli Chuck Banks
Nate Coulter Judge David F. Guthrie
Martha Hill Henry Hodges
Jim Julian Judge Alice Lightle
Judge Mary Spencer McGowan H. T. Moore
Mark W. Nichols Former Judge John F. Stroud, Jr.
Former Justice Annabelle Imber Tuck Chief Judge Larry Vaught
Judge Joyce Williams Warren Judge Ralph E. Wilson
Judge Shawn Womack

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