Monday, September 17, 2007
UMKC Law School Dean Defends Missouri Nonpartisan Court Plan
I'm a proud graduate of UMKC Law School. I remain disappointed that Prof. Bill Eckhardt is attacking the Missouri Nonpartisan Court Plan with factually incorrect statements, but ecstatic that Dean Ellen Suni, is defending the process. Dean Suni has actually practiced law in the state, has taught Missouri ethics and has experience in courtrooms in our state. In short - she knows what she is talking about.
The following is her submission to the KC Star - we will see if they publish it.
Once again, attacks are being made on the Missouri Nonpartisan Court Plan. When something is working well, the burden of proof lies with those seeking change. That burden has not been met. We already have a strong judiciary in Missouri, and improvement is more likely to come from increased funding for the courts and creation of a citizenry better educated in the importance of judicial independence and separation of powers than from changes in the judicial selection process.
The current Plan works. Not only is it a national model, but it produces outstanding judges. As a lawyer, dean and moot court advisor, I know many of the appellate judges in Missouri. They are extremely competent and committed jurists who do a fine job of deciding difficult cases. Their opinions are well reasoned and fair. Having both won and lost cases in the appellate courts, I have never questioned the fairness, integrity or competence of the judges before whom I appeared.
Contrary to recent suggestions, the Plan is not a secret system that excludes the public. The nonpartisan judicial Commissions include lawyers elected by members of the state Bar and lay members appointed by the Governor. While the names of those being considered by the Commissions are confidential, this is necessary to attract strong candidates. Most high-level public and private searches today are confidential, and judicial searches require nothing less. With an appropriately selected Commission, confidentiality in the screening process is not an evil.
Finally, the Missouri Plan works to keep partisan politics out of the judicial selection process. It prevents money being spent on judicial campaigns that create name recognition rather than provide information about the qualifications of judges. It also avoids unseemly judicial elections that divert judges from their core functions and encourage political contributions that can lead to skepticism about the impartiality of later decisions.
If we truly want to continue to have a strong judiciary in Missouri, those who think we are not doing enough should shift their attention from attacking the Plan and work instead to increase funding for the courts and improve civics education as it relates to the Third Branch. With improved resources and better citizen understanding, our judiciary can more effectively play the important independent role it was assigned, and which is so necessary, in our unique constitutional democracy.
The defense of the Missouri Plan is coming from Republicans, Democrats and scholarly professors. Maybe, just maybe, if intelligent moderates can agree that the Missouri Nonpartisan Court Plan is good, then Matt Blunt is wrong.