Monday, January 28, 2008

Why We Need the Missouri Plan: Rep. Lembke thrusts politics into custody case

You might recall that Rep. Jim Lembke (R - St. Louis) has managed to stir things up by advocating for changes in the Missouri Non-partisan court plan while at the same time pushing to inject politics into the neutral judicial branch. Lembke decided to write a letter to Judge Christine Hutson, telling her to recuse herself from a Lebanon, Missouri custody case. Rep. Lembke then filed documents to have Judge Hutson impeached.

Why would a St. Louis state representative stick his nose into rural custody case? Politics, plan and simple. Things just don't look good when even the Republicans are pointing out the ethical problems with Rep. Lembke's actions. As the Lebanon Daily Record notes "Lebanon’s representative in the statehouse, Republican Darrell Pollock, denounces as highly inappropriate the actions of a St. Louis lawmaker who is injecting himself into a Camden County divorce case." A guardian was appointed to represent the kids' best interests, that person called Rep. Lembke's tactics "very heavy handed." The local paper asked Rep. Pollock (R - Lebanon) why Rep. Lembke got involved on the side of the losing parent, Claire Noland Vance;

When asked why Lembke wanted Hutson to recuse herself, Pollock said Lembke mentioned that Hutson had been a past supporter of Congressman Ike Skelton, D-4th District, whose political opponent has been Jim Noland, father of Claire Noland Vance.

So, all we have is nasty, old politics finding its way into a courtroom. That is exactly why we have the Missouri NON-PARTISAN Court Plan. Rep. Lembke wants to get rid of the system because he can't use his political muscle to help out his friends in the courtroom.

You have to tip your hat to Judge Hutson for standing up to political pressure. You also have to be impressed with Rep. Pollock for standing up to his fellow Republican. Here is Rep. Pollack's letter to Rep. Lembke:

December 14, 2007

The Honorable Jim Lembke
House of Representatives
State Capitol
Jefferson City, MO 65101

Dear Rep. Lembke:

I am writing you this letter to continue the initiation of conversation that I began on Thursday, December 13, 2007, three days after your filing of a letter asking that Judge Christine Hutson recuse herself from a case that is presently before her, and your plan to file a House Resolution directed toward Judge Hutson seeking constitutional grounds for impeachment.

I reiterate our phone conversation that Judge Christine Hutson is an honorable person. She is held in the highest regard in the community, which she serves. Judge Hutson is a person of integrity and I have seen this demonstrated personally when I visit her courtroom. I have also shared with her that I appreciate her demeanor and decorum in the manner she runs the cases before her. Judge Christine Hutson is not of the same party affiliation as I am, but nonetheless a true servant of those that have chosen her to serve in this capacity.

The court case that we are discussing is currently before the Southern District Court of Appeals and they have returned a portion of the case back to Judge Hutson for further review. This is my understanding. You have asked in your letter that Judge Hutson recuse herself from this case. Jim, I have to ask, have you considered that what you are asking may have the appearance of being unethical on your part? What are your intentions in this case? I also ask what role do you believe the Missouri House of Representatives has in this particular case? These are important questions that deserve answers. It is my understanding, this case has not gone through the process of being brought before the Commission on Discipline that our courts have in place to deal with allegations such as these. There are measures in place to deal with this and to my knowledge they have not been requested. Jim, you had mentioned to me that your reason for this impeachment is that you believe there has been an act of oppression from the bench. I have to ask, is it that Judge Hutson gave full custody to the father and you believe that the father is unable to handle this? That I do not understand. Even the attorney representing the children’s best interests in this case sided with Judge Hutson that the choice should be made to give the father custody. This does not constitute impression. This decision came about from much deliberation and discernment. For us to take an outside look for only a few minutes at such an in-depth and difficult situation and determine that Judge Hutson used her bench for acts of oppression is beyond my imagination. Jim, I am asking that you withdraw your House Resolution (#3683L.011) immediately and that you recuse yourself from further activity in this case; allow justice to be done at the discretion of those experienced and have the ability to determine fairness, which are the judges that this case is before.

I have worked with you shoulder to shoulder on many issues and find that you are a true representative of the people you serve. I respect you and many of the stances you take. I am asking that you return the same courtesy to me and know that I too represent the people fairly and honorably. I disagree with your involvement in this issue and look forward to this being resolved expeditiously.


Darrell Pollock
District 146

Rep. Lempke responded, according to the Lebanon Daily Record:

Lembke replied to Pollock on Jan. 4, saying he had studied the court documents and sought legal opinions from “numerous attorneys and advice from state agency personnel.”

“The parties involved are not friends, relatives, or associates of mine or anyone I know, nor are they political supporters or even opponents. If you are implying that questioning the ethics of a member of the judiciary would be itself unethical, I feel that it is our right as citizens and, as representatives, our constitutional duty to challenge abuses of power,” Lembke’s reply says.

“How do we know that the persons sitting in judgment on the bench are the most experienced, qualified, and knowledgeable if, on occasion when brought before us, we do not exercise our constitutional check?” Lembke added.

I'm still trying to get a copy of the resolution (Jetton's office won't give it up) and will continue to try to get copies of the relevant letters. If you want to know why we need less politics in the judiciary, not more, all you have to do is look at this debacle.


Stephen Bough said...

The opinion page of the Lebanon paper said:

“The very idea!”

That phrase, uttered with plenty of scorn, was a favorite condemnatory remark of my grandmother, a lady of well-formed opinions.

The very idea — that a St. Louis politician, who is not a lawyer, would dive into a Camden County divorce case and threaten one of our elected judges with impeachment — that very idea is appalling and insulting.

As our story Friday noted, Rep. Jim Lembke of St. Louis County refuses to specify any allegations against Judge Christine Hutson. He just wanted her to take herself off a civil action that’s been going on for three years. Judge Hutson is unable to defend herself in the media because jurists are prohibited from commenting on pending litigation.

A party with a gripe about judicial conduct can take his case to the state commission on discipline. Lembke instead chose to drop off a draft impeachment resolution with House Speaker Rod Jetton, a real estate company owner, who, so far, has taken no action. Lembke’s responsible move is to drop his request immediately. Surely the voters in St. Louis County would prefer that he attend to matters in his own backyard.

whistleblower said...

“How do we know that the persons sitting in judgment on the bench are the most experienced, qualified, and knowledgeable if, on occasion when brought before us, we do not exercise our constitutional check?” Lembke added.

Stephen, are you suggesting that our elected representatives should not perform this check?

Rep. Pollock seems to suggest that there is some requirement for a complaint to be filed with the Commission for Retirement, Removal, and Discipline of Judges. No such requirement exists.

It is the constitutional duty of our elected representatives to check on the judges. Article VII of the Missouri Constitution grants this power to the House of Representatives.

If Speaker Jetton does not act on HR 3683L.011, he is failing to perform his duties. If Judge Hutson has done nothing wrong, that should be determined by the House. If the Resolution filed by Lembke is frivolous, he should be the one removed from office.

Claire Noland-Vance, the mother who lost custody in this case, is an attorney. She knows how the system works. She knows that the C.R.R.D. is more of a clearing house for judicial complaints than an impartial method of addressing problems within the Judiciary. The purpose of the C.R.R.D. is to preserve the appearance of judicial integrity. That’s the problem with such a commission.

In March of 2006, Claire Noland-Vance filed an Application for Writ of Prohibition, and an Application for Writ of Mandamus. Both were directed at Judge Hutson. Claire's sister, also an attorney, was representing her at that time. The Appellate Court denied the writs, but did not publish an opinion. Maybe we should review the writ applications. They may shine some light on the subject.

Given the fact that these Writs were applied for, and denied, well before Rep. Lembke got involved, you must accept the possibility that he was asked to get involved as a last resort.

I know that you want all our judges to be hand-picked by the Bar, and disciplined by the Bar, with no available outside influence, but that's not the way it is. Nor should it be.

How many complaints have you filed with the C.R.R.D.?

Robin Hood said...

The stark reality is that, in virtually all Missouri Plan states, judicial discipline is effectively non-existent.

Stop Lembke said...

Citing his attack on the state’s judiciary and values out of touch with Missourians, the Committee to Stop Lembke was created to oppose the election of Jim Lembke to the State Senate. Rep. Jim Lembke proposed eliminating the Missouri Nonpartisan Court Plan, which has protected Missouri courts for nearly seven decades by requiring the selection of judges based on merit rather than on political affiliation. Learn more here:

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