Lack of leadership obstructs judicial reform

I agree 100-percent with retired Judge William W. Baker and and former US Attorney John McKay (a Republican) that Washington state should move away from directly electing judges, to a commission/retention election system:

Under a commission system, a commission of citizens and lawyers considers all applicants for a vacant court position and recommends three or more candidates to the governor. The governor must appoint one of the recommended candidates. Once appointed, the judge must periodically stand for a retention election without any opponent, in which the only question is whether to retain the judge for another term.

This is the only way to free our judiciary from the corrupting influence of big money — be it from corporations, the BIAW, trial lawyers or organized labor— and 60-percent of our judges already take office via a gubernatorial appointment alone. The commission system is a sensible, reasonable, pragmatic approach that already works well in many other states. But I don’t really expect to ever see such reform come before voters here in Washington, because quite frankly, I don’t think our legislature or our governor have the balls to lead on this issue.

No doubt, regardless of how responsible such reforms may be, opponents will brand supporters as elitist and anti-democratic, and no elected official wants to be branded by that. So once again, for the simple want of effective leadership, Washington will continue to just do what it does because that’s the way we’ve always done it.


  1. 1

    Mike Jones spews:

    Is McKay a Republican I had him for a class at SU Law and he doens’t seem to be but maybe he just not a winger.

  2. 2

    Roger Rabbit spews:

    You just don’t understand our populist western ways, Goldy. We like electing our judges. We like electing everyone, including the state schools chiefs and lands commissioner and insurance commissioner. This keeps government responsive to the people. So what if a bad apple gets in now and then. Bad apples get appointed, too. Be careful of what you wish for. Do you want a commission appointed by a Governor Rossi picking all of our judges? This is a potential path to a rightwing judiciary in a liberal state and the people be damned.

  3. 3


    Roger @2,

    It’s the states with judicial elections that have ended up with right-wing judiciaries in recent years, bought and paid for by the US Chamber and other business interests.

    Obviously, you need to structure the commission right, but it works well in other states, and tends to insulate the judiciary from politics.

    Oh… and just because we like electing everyone, doesn’t mean we should. That’s my point.

  4. 4

    BigGlen spews:

    Goldy, as much as I hate to say this you right. Nobody has the balls to change the way Washington State picks its judges. Until a high ranking judges gets caught bribe taking. The bribe will come in the form of a campaign donation, from a drug dealer. (BIAW “donations” have not yet risen to the level of bribes).
    Then politicians will climb of each others asses to change things but not before.
    Elected law enforcement agency heads have the same problem (King County Sheriff).

  5. 5


    goldy hates democracy. the little people shouldnt be allowed to vote for judges or citizens initiatives….they should be appointed by the great leader(s).

    go back to the crooked cesspool known as the east coast..

  6. 6

    BigGlen spews:

    YLB, do you mean the crooked cesspool like Perice county where, in the 1970’s, the sheriff went to jail for bribe taking? (From the mafia as campaign donations.)

  7. 8

    Zotz spews:

    I struggle with a commission until we’ve replaced a couple of the supremes, particularly Johnson and Sanders. Wouldn’t they become lifetime problems?

    It seems to me that being able to directly replace judges — without a filter of “those who know what’s best for us” — is pretty important.

    I know it ain’t easy (and we’re about to have a really bad SCOTUS decision on corporate personhood), but isn’t fixing campaign finance a better option?

  8. 9

    Zotz spews:

    @1: “Is McKay a Republican I had him for a class at SU Law and he doens’t seem to be…”

    He was. Notably, he was a shrub appointed US Atty who was fired by Rove for not going along with politically motivated prosecutions, allegedly the 2004 Gov election.

    He seems to be an OK guy, but he was an R so I’d still be skeptical until proven otherwise (;-)).

  9. 10


    @7…….wow, 35 years ago…LMFAO.

    even as corrupt as King County is(Ron Simms anyone???), it pales in comparison to the corruption and crookery in places like Chicago(hhmm, who’s from there?) and the big cities of the northeast.

  10. 12

    Roger Rabbit spews:

    @8 Jim Johnson is an odious figure in Washington legal history, and his presence on the state supreme court is a travesty, but he is only 1 of 9 votes on the court and our judicial system is strong enough to withstand an occasional voter mistake of this nature.

    I have voted for Sanders a couple of times, mostly because there wasn’t a credible alternative on the ballot. Sanders is in no way comparable to Jim “Indian Fighter” Johnson. He’s a libertarian, so you’ll likely disagree with his views on many things if you’re a progressive, but despite a couple of episodes of questionable judgment, he’s basically a decent and honorable man, and he’s been a strong defender of individual liberties and constitutional rights on the court. He is, in a way, the court’s “conscience” on such issues.

  11. 13

    Roger Rabbit spews:

    @10 I’m not aware of any corruption under Ron Sims’ county administration. None whatsoever. A taxer and spender he was, but corrupt? No, you’re just blowing smoke out of your ass.

  12. 14

    Zotz spews:

    Actually, Mr. Rabbit, Johnson kind of proves Goldy’s point about corporate funding of judicial elections. And it’s more than the two I pointed out — we’ve a pretty conservative court for this liberal state.

    I was trying to reinforce your point that it’s almost always better to be able to elect vice appoint.

  13. 15

    Roger Rabbit spews:

    @11 Her question revives media scrutiny of an issue as old as the Republic. In reality, corporate personhood is a legal fiction. In the context of whether corporations should have First or Fourteenth Amendment rights, a threshold question should be whether it makes sense to carry this fiction farther than it needs to go for its functional purposes. Analytically, a corporation is an economic enterprise formed from the aggregation of many persons’ capital. It is property, not an organic being, and above all a creature of statute whose terms and conditions of existence are the prerogative of the granting sovereign. Yet, the concept of corporate personhood has a complex and convoluted legal history, and the applicability of constitutional rights to corporate entities is by no means settled. Sotomayor’s question may represent the opening shot of what could become a prolonged and hard-fought ideological and judicial battle.

  14. 16

    Roger Rabbit spews:

    @14 Johnson absolutely demonstrates that Goldy’s point about the influence of money on judicial elections is a real-world issue and not an academic question. But money also influences elections for legislative and executive offices, sometimes in bad ways, so does that mean we should set up a commission of wise men empowered to appoint congressmen, senators, legislators, governors, and presidents? No sir, and for the same reasons, I don’t think we should appoint judges either.

    But my main point was that the history and culture of the West have produced a strong tradition of direct democracy, and Goldy — an easterner still intellectually tied to his eastern roots — is bucking that tradition. Goldy doesn’t like the referendum and initiative, either, and wishes they would go away. A century and a half of history and tradition says that ain’t a-gonna happen. You may as well go to New England and try to abolish the townhall. Electing judges, and referendums and initiatives, are ingrained institutions around here.

    There are reasons, rooted in history and memory, why we have so much direct democracy in this part of the country, and cherish it so much. At a minimum, one should learn and understand that history, before coming here from Philadelphia and presuming to “reform” our established ways of doing things.

    I personally have lived in the midwest and south, and I like the western ways of doing things. That’s one of the reasons why I stayed and became a westerner. I like Goldy, and picking a fight with him is the last thing I want to do, but in these matters he’s a carpetbagger and has gotten himself in over his head. We ain’t a-gonna change, and he’s pissing into the wind if he thinks so, and moreover we shouldn’t change but that’s another subject altogether.

  15. 17


    I agree with 15, and the judge.

    If they be persons then they should be allowed to live like any other person, taxed like and person, marry the person of its choosing. But it does not because it is not, so stop pretending it is, and stop giving more benefits in society than actual persons given the rights by a God.

  16. 18


    About electing judges, who would then have the power to remove them, and would the judges then be beholding to that other powerful force?

  17. 20

    proudtobeanass spews:

    To those of you above who defend the public election of judges, I submit the following: OK…so we can then dispense with the idiotic “nonpartisan” nonsense? If you desire to extend democracy to the judiciary, you gotta’ take the good with the bad…nez pah?

    But then again, I favor machine politics. We have it for the rich, why not for the rest of us?

  18. 21

    Roger Rabbit spews:

    @20 I would go in the opposite direction by extending the King County “nonpartisan” model to all counties … especially the red counties. If King County voters aren’t allowed to know the partisan leanings of candidates for county offices, then why should the voters in other counties — especially the red counties — enjoy that privilege? One way or the other, it should be the same all over the state.

  19. 22

    proud leftist spews:

    Roger @ 16
    My Western bona fides are as strong as anyone’s–hell, I was born in Alaska. I think electing judges is nonsense of the first order. I have appeared in front of too many of them who haven’t the slightest clue what they’re doing. (I’m not going to name names because such would be a violation of the Rules of Professional Conduct.) We have a great federal bench here in western Washington because of a bipartisan group that recommends candidates to the president. Even Bush appointed good judges under this system. The federal model would prevent people like Barbara Madsen and Jim Johnson from being on our state’s Supreme Court (whoops, I didn’t mean to name names). Electing judges needs to end.

  20. 24

    SJ spews:


    I am dissappointed by argument.

    The practice of electing judges is a western trqadition BUT that just says there is a political barrier, not nthat we arfe doing this the right way.

    I suspect the political barrier here may not be in the use of a commission but in the distrust by many of the elected officials who would appoint the commission. A further challenge is the deeply imbedded distrust of lawyers themselves.

    One way arround this might be to package judicial choice in a bigger program that would diminish the power of the attorneys. Moviong more adjudication to small claims courts, seperating the AS’s office into an office that acts as the State’s attorney and one that represents citizens????

    How does our effed up system compare to effed up systems elsewhere?

  21. 25

    kirk91 spews:

    16 Well put.

    In a democracy that values human rights, occasionally a bad person may be elected or a criminal go free because of the police not following the rules of evidence and so on–the remedy for this is not do to away with the rights of folks to vote or to allow the police to arrest anyone they think has or might commit a crime.

  22. 26

    Roger Rabbit spews:

    @23 No, I’m not fucking kidding you. I’m very well informed on governmental affairs, and have been very involved with state and local politics for the last, oh, 40 years or so. You’ve made an assertion that Ron Sims was “corrupt.” There are no facts to support this nonsense.

    I’m calling you out because you’re a liar. Do I make myself clear? Is there anything ambiguous about my calling you a liar? Say what you want about me, use whatever vulgar language you wish, but that doesn’t change the fact you’re a liar and your assertion that Ron Sims was “corrupt” is a baldfaced lie.

  23. 27

    Roger Rabbit spews:

    @24 First of all, you assume our judicial system is “effed up.” I would argue that’s not so. Sure, Washington has some bad judges — but what state doesn’t?

    You also appear to have bought into the popular notion that lawyers are dishonest, self-serving, untrustworthy people. I disagree with that. During my 35-year legal career, most of the faults I’ve discovered in our legal system are with the law itself, not with the lawyers. Nearly all the lawyers I’ve known and done business with over the years were highly honorable people who worked hard to do a good job in an ethically sound manner. Many of us became lawyers in the first place because, for one reason or another, we acquired at some time in the formative stages of our lives a strong sense of fair play and a strong desire for justice.

    If we did away with electing judges, and opted for a system of appointing judges, then the first question we would face is … who would appoint the judges? If you opt for a commission, then the logical choice of people to sit on the commission and make the selections are seasoned lawyers. No one else has the knowledge and perspective to evaluate potential judge candidates as well. No one can better recognize the difference between a good judge and a mediocre or bad one.

    In addition to the question of who would appoint the judges, you have to decide who will appoint the commission that chooses the judges, if you opt for a judicial selection commission system. That will invariably be a politician, probably a governor, who will be under partisan pressure from his/her supporters to put partisan people on the commission. The more you pick apart the notion of appointing judges, the messier it gets.

    Moreover, the politician appointing the commission that appoints the judges will, in all likelihood, be a non-lawyer who doesn’t know very much about what makes a good judge or how a judicial selection process should be run. Do you really want politicians with no legal background ultimately controlling who sits on our state’s benches?

    This approach also raises separation-of-powers issues, because then you have the executive effectively appointing what is supposed to be a separate and coequal branch of government. It is hard to see how the judicial branch does not, at least to some degree, become subordinate to the executive branch under such a system.

    To preserve the democratic principle, there has to be ultimate accountability to the people for who is selected for the bench. In theory, if voters don’t like the judicial selections made by a commission appointed by the governor, they can vote out the governor. As most governors have no special qualifications to select the people who will select the judges, why not eliminate the middleman and let the people choose the judges themselves? The whole notion of a judicial appointment system rests on the assumption that the people are too ignorant to choose judges themselves and the politicians and commissioners will do a better job with less partisan influence on the process, a dubious argument if there ever was one.

    For the foregoing reasons, and more, you still have a long way to go to persuade me.

  24. 28

    SJ spews:

    @26 YLB racist

    Roger is understating this. Read myh lips:

    Ron Sims is an utterly honest guy.

    It goes further than this, you traitorous republican radicals have spead more so many lies that their verbiage has taken on the
    personna of crothc lice.

    You want some more of this shit ..

    Dan Rather never lied. The “evidence” that thise documents were forged was BS .. I used the same typewriter as a USN doc in 73 that the Fauxies clim did not exit in 73.

    van Jones is not now and was never a commie .. unless by commie you guyys mean natione whio has read marx. In that case you better indict Greenspan too.

    there were no WMD is Iraq.

    NO serious scientists with expertise is opposed to controlling global warming.

    Dinos and mammals never co existed.


  25. 29

    SJ spews:

    Goebbels would have understood the Repricans very well .. he said that telling a lie over again makes that lies a truth.

    The rad righties have become Nazis.

  26. 30


    Hi Goldy.

    There’s something deeply wrong with WA’s system of electing judges. I’m kind of ignorant on the issue, but have a suggestion.

    I met lots of judges while campaigning in 2008. We’d all stand in back, accosting any fresh face, ask for their support. You get to know people you see night after night.

    When stumping, judges can only talk about themselves. They can’t talk about any issues, because they’re supposed to be impartial. For the same reason, they can’t ask for money.

    Judicial candidates can’t even say if their a Democrat, Republican, or otherwise.

    So they talk about their past. You have to infer their judicial philosophy (abortion, bill of rights, corporate personhood, etc.) from their CV and their endorsements.

    It’s a ridiculous system.

    Everyone running knows it’s a ridiculous system. It’s a huge distraction from their day jobs. (Most candidates are currently judges or practicing law.)

    Being ignorant, I asked pretty much everyone how they thought things should be done.

    A few suggested Missouri’s system of retention elections.

    The basic idea is that Missouri got sick of the money corrupting judicial elections, decided to appoint judges (with a confirmation process), and then judges face the voters for a retention election.

    I kind of like this idea. Regular retention elections puts the onus on the judges to show their worth. Versus impeachment process, to remove horrible judges, which puts the burden on the opposition.

    So, now for my suggestion:

    All judgical election campaigns should be publicly financed.

    Washington Public Campaigns has been working on this for our supreme court races.

    I have no doubt that Missouri’s system of selecting judges is superior to Washington’s. I think I’d be happy with retention elections, if they were publicly financed.

  27. 31

    SJ spews:

    27. Roger Rabbit responds to SJ @ 24

    @24 First of all, you assume our judicial system is “effed up.”

    Not my words, at least not in this post.

    You also appear to have bought into the popular notion that lawyers are dishonest, self-serving, untrustworthy people.

    Again, not my words. Your profession rerquires public trust, without that the entire system is fragile.

    Nearly all the lawyers I’ve known and done business with over the years were highly honorable people who worked hard to do a good job in an ethically sound manner.

    The selfless facility of the bar at defining ethics is a major source of public skepticism.

    Many of us became lawyers in the first place because, for one reason or another, we acquired at some time in the formative stages of our lives a strong sense of fair play and a strong desire for justice.

    I can and do claim the same for doctors, chiropractors, cops, priests, fir men, and pimps.

    …Ithe logical choice of people to sit on the commission and make the selections are seasoned lawyers. No one else has the knowledge and perspective to evaluate potential judge candidates as well.

    This is rather self serving.

    …, if you opt for a judicial selection commission system. That will invariably be a politician, probably a governor, who will be under partisan pressure from his/her supporters to put partisan people on the commission.

    FWIW, it seems to me that boards of regents and corporate directors seem to do pretty good jobs. One way iof limiting the misdeeds of politians might be to include required reviews by the bar and by retired judges.

    the politician appointing the commission …will, in all likelihood, be a non-lawyer who doesn’t know very much about what makes a good judge or how a judicial selection process should be run.

    Some of our most importnjat US judges havecome form non-legal backgrounds .. including Warren and Marshall who, though lawyers, brought muchy more to their benches than their law degrees.

    This approach also raises separation-of-powers issues, …It is hard to see how the judicial branch does not, at least to some degree, become subordinate to the executive branch under such a system.

    As in our federal courts???? Who appointed Archibald Cox during the Watergate era?

    To preserve the democratic principle, there has to be ultimate accountability to the people for who is selected for the bench.

    You are contradicting yourself here. IF the commission is suspect for lack of legal expertise, would you argue that the electorate has that expertise?

    As most governors have no special qualifications to select the people who will select the judges, why not eliminate the middleman and let the people choose the judges themselves?

    Which governors lack this expertise?

    Most governors are attorneys. if not, why would you assume the governor and the commission would NOT avail themselves of experts?

    Your reasoning leads to only enfranchising lawyers to choose judges.

    The whole notion of a judicial appointment system rests on the assumption that the people are too ignorant

    Again, you are illogical. What is “dubious?”

    Do you doubt that the 90% of the elctorate has no idea who the judges are?

    For the foregoing reasons, and more, you still have a long way to go to persuade me.

    For the foregoing reasons, and more, you still have a long way to go to persuade me.

  28. 32


    #28….wow, so this is an example of a UW prof? hahahahah
    once again, your type makes the ASSumption that I am republican – sorry, you lose(again).

    Simms not crooked? ahhahahahahah, oh my, thats rich. The only thing even remotely close to the dishonesty and and outright fraud in King County is some of the cronyism in Pierce County.

    As far as the other drivel in your post: who cares! What does bush have to do with King County? or dinosaurs for that matter?

    pathetic reaching by someone who cant seem to make it in the real world.

    and BTW, there are thousands of credible scientists who dont walk lock-step with you crooked algore types bent on wrecking this country.

  29. 33


    @26…the only people who think ron simms wasnt a crook are other crooks themselves. You being involves with local politics speaks volumes….

    and I dont give a damn what you call me – you are irrelevant. get it?

  30. 34


    @29…LMFAO….and this idiot gets paid with my tax dollars? HAHAHHA…

    well, to counter your gibberish, I give you this: Trotsky and Stalin would have understood todays progressives very well, especially your type.

    keep brainwashing them kids……jagoff.

  31. 36


    Roger Rabbit @ 16

    the West have produced a strong tradition of direct democracy

    I’ve been chewing on the election of judges now. I still don’t have a firm idea of how to fix our current broken system. Other than the retention election idea from Missouri.

    I’m all for direct democracy.


    I’ve used collaborative decision making in the past. Given high quality data, groups of people make high quality decisions. I don’t know how or why, it just works, kinda like magic.

    Washington State judicial campaigns are impaired. The voters are not getting the high quality information they need to make informed choices.

    At the same time, the trogs have us thinking corporations are people and spending money is free speech.

    So imagine being a rational (non-trog) candidate in today’s climate. You’re not allowed to ask for money. You’re not allowed to demonstrate that you’re rational. Meanwhile, you can’t expose the corporate sponsored trog.

    Seems like recipe for disaster. That we’ve been able to beat back the BIAW funded candidates thus far is due more to luck than reason.

    So, yea, direct democracy is great. How to make it work for judicial races? My (unoriginal) suggestion is for publicly financed campaigns. That addresses the money angle.

    What can be done to give voters higher quality information?

  32. 37


    Washington Public Campaigns will again work to pass legislation through the next session in Olympia to pass public campaign financing for our State Supreme Court justices. There is a way to keep elections of our judges but elect them without special interest money. will tell you more.

  33. 38

    Roger Rabbit spews:

    Appointed Texas Board Failed To Stop Execution Of Innocent Man

    The fishwrapper this morning published a snippet of a story about a Texas execution of a man who probably was innocent.


    Cameron Willingham was executed in 2004 for allegedly starting a house fire that killed his 3 young children. The case is in the news today because an expert hired by the state issued a report yesterday saying the forensic testimony used to convict Willingham was faulty. This finding is consistent with other expert reviews that have concluded the cause of the fire was accidental, not arson.

    The Wikipedia article about the case quotes a Chicago Tribune investigative article: ‘Over the past five years, the Willingham case has been reviewed by nine of the nation’s top fire scientists — first for the Tribune, then for the Innocence Project, and now for the commission. All concluded that the original investigators relied on outdated theories and folklore to justify the determination of arson.”

    In particular, Wikipedia says, “Fire investigator Gerald L. Hurst reviewed the case documents, including the trial transcriptions and an hour-long videotape of the aftermath of the fire scene. Hurst said, ‘There’s nothing to suggest to any reasonable arson investigator that this was an arson fire. It was just a fire.'” Hurst, Wikipedia says, concluded that Willingham was convicted with “junk science.”

    A much more detailed article about the post-execution investigation of the case was published in New Yorker magazine.

    Justice Scalia, among other supporters of the death penalty, has bragged about the reliability of safeguards built into our legal system to prevent executions of innocents. So let’s take a look at how those safeguards worked in Willingham’s case.

    In Texas, the last lines of defense against wrongful executions are the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles, a 9-member commission appointed by the governor, and executive clemency. The TBPP and governor were given Hurst’s report before Willingham was executed, but even though it blew apart the prosecution’s case, TBPP voted unanimously to let the execution proceed and the governor denied clemency.

    Why they did, isn’t the main point, so I won’t discuss it here. My point is, while the TBPP is not a court and its members are not judges, they perform a judicial function and there’s absolutely nothing in their handling of the Willingham case to inspire any confidence whatsoever in Texas’ system of appointing these judicial officials of last resort.

    It’s true that Texas judges are elected, and the performance of elected judges in this case was also abysmal; but anyone who thinks appointing judges instead of electing them is an antidote to incompetence or arbitrary administration of justice should take a hard look at this case, in which both the elected and appointed components of the system failed miserably.

  34. 39


    It would take an amendment to the state constitution to establish a judicial selection system using a selection commission (suggesting appointees) with periodic retention elections. Although perhaps preferable, it is unlikely that Washington voters feel strongly enough about this to push through such a constitutional amendment – at least in the foreseeable future.

    In the meantime, we have a growing problem of special interest money influencing the results of current elections. In 2006, over $4.2 million was spent – including independent electioneering activities. In 2008, the total raised and spent (on three judicial races) was much lower – less than $1 million – but only because some groups (BIAW and others) focused all their money on the race for governor.

    In the 2010 judicial elections (seats up include Justices Sanders, Jim Johnson, and Barbara Madsen), it’s likely we’ll see over-the-top spending again. If so, it’s offensive to the principle that justice should not be for sale.

    Keep in mind: the courts do matter – on many issues, including land use, growth management, environmental rulings, worker safety, budget and finance issues, and even the rulings on citizen initiatives.

    So in the meantime (lacking a fundamental change in how judges are selected), we ought to take action against this unreasonable special-interest spending on judicial campaigns.

    And that’s why public financing of these campaigns – reasonably designed and funded, as an option for candidates who so choose – is a good idea.

    For more info:

    – Craig, at

  35. 40

    Roger Rabbit spews:

    Apart from the arrogance of the investigators, and their use of voodoo science to send Willingham to his death, there are many other disturbing facts about the Willingham case tht raise a specter of “Texas small town justice.”

    The prosecutor offered Willingham a life sentence in exchange of a guilty plea, but Willingham insisted he was innocent, and refused to admit he killed his children. That cost him his life.

    It seems to be there is something profoundly unethical about using the threat of death to extract confessions, or making a defendant who claims he is innocent risk his life as the price of having his day in court.

    The jury convicted Willingham after deliberating only an hour, following a two-day trial, making the conviction that sent him to his death seem like a casual affair. Willingham was represented by public defenders who put on only a single witness, a former babysitter who merely expresed her opinion that she didn’t believe Willingham was capable of murdering his daughters. Why did higher courts accept this is as sufficient due process, or adequate legal representation?

    In the penalty phase, the prosecution used music group posters (e.g., Iron Maiden and Led Zeppelin) and a tattoo on Willingham’s arm that depicted skulls to argue that Willingham was a sociopath obsessed with the imagery of death and given to “satanic-type activities.” Willingham apparently was a guy who simply liked metallic rock.

    One of the witnesses used by the prosecution in the penalty phase was a notorious forensic psychologist known as “Dr. Death” who later was disbarred by his professional association for unethical behavior. In Willingham’s case, Dr. Death gave testimony identically worded to the testimony he gave in another case that resulted in a defendant being sentenced to death for killing a police officer. That defendant was later exonerated and freed from prison when new evidence surfaced that proved him innocent.

    By the way, SCOTUS refused to review Willingham’s case.

    How could such a flimsy case get through our legal system? Well, that’s “Texas justice” for you, some people will say. Yes, but again, my point is the two last lines of defense against the apparently wrongful execution of Cameron Willingham were an appointed state board and the appointed justices of the U.S. Supreme Court, and this case flew right through both of those bodies.

    So, for all the flaws of elected judges, how is it again that appointing judicial officials is suppose to cure those flaws? Empirical experience argues that, given a choice between elective or appointive systems, at best it’s six of one or half a dozen of the other.

    So, why not opt for the most democratic method, and let the people elect them?

  36. 41

    Roger Rabbit spews:

    Of course, liberals who oppose the death penalty entirely likely will use the Willingham case to argue for abolition.

    For many years, the “Holy Grail” of the anti-capital punishment movement has been finding an actual case of an innocent person being executed, which until now has eluded them. There have been many verified close calls — since 1976, at least 130 death row inmates have been exonerated and freed — but as Justice Scalia argued in a SCOTUS opinion, there hasn’t been “a single case, not one” of a legally and factually innocent person being executed. Whether Cameron Willingham will officially become an innocent person remains up in the air, as the case is still under official review.

    I’m not in that place. Capital punishment is one of those gut-wrenching moral-political issues that I’ve grappled with for years, and after much soul searching, I feel society should have the option to impose death for exceptionally heinous crimes where guilt is not in doubt. In my opinion, the Carr brothers, perpetrators of the so-called “Wichita Horror,” and the Manson killers fall into that category. So does Charles Rodman Campbell, a truly vile cretin who is the only Washington inmate involuntarily executed in our own state in the last 45 years. (Campbell was hanged at Walla Wall in 1994.)

    Campbell went to prison for raping a pregnant woman named Renae Wicklund. After serving only 8 years of a 30-year sentence, Campbell was released from prison, and made a beeline to Wicklund’s home where he stabbed her to death, beheaded Wicklund’s 8-year-old daughter, and also slashed a visiting neighbor woman to death. When found hiding in nearby woods by police, he was covered with human blood from head to foot.

    I think we should kill people like Campbell. It doesn’t bother me that it took 16 years of appeals to bring him to justice. That’s very frustrating for the victims’ families and those who thirst for quick justice, but it’s more important to be careful we don’t make mistakes, and above all, that we don’t railroad innocent people. Death cases deserve the utmost scrutiny due to the irreversibility of the punishment. It costs taxpayers far more to execute someone than to incarcerate them for life. But I think there are criminals who deserve the chop, and as long as we make sure the safeguards work, that should be an option in heinous cases. I won’t argue it deters anyone; it probably doesn’t. I simply think there are times when you have to kill someone in order to reaffirm the sanctity of human life.

    In almost all cases, I would argue for meticulous fidelity to the principles of due process. But there are exceptions even to that. I strongly feel that someone should have put a bullet in Adolf Hitler before he had an opportunity to act out his sociopathic expressions. The world would have been soooo much better off if someone had simply murdered him.

  37. 42

    proudtobeanass spews:

    “You have to infer their judicial philosophy (abortion, bill of rights, corporate personhood, etc.)”

    I’ve heard many candidates speak at my LD meeting seeking endorsements. They can’t even speak to these issues, Jason. If direct election of these offices promotes the public good (based on the principle that more democracy is better than less)then they should be able to respond forthrightly about their views on the hot button judicial issues of the day. After all, judicial decisions have a great deal of impact….and as Dred Scott demonstrates, they have for a great deal of time.

    The idea that our judiciary is somehow “above the fray” is a misleading simplification that our current system refuses to acknowledge.

  38. 43

    ArtFart spews:

    @32 “Simms not crooked? ahhahahahahah, oh my, thats rich. The only thing even remotely close to the dishonesty and and outright fraud in King County”

    Ok, how’s about giving us some specific examples?

  39. 44

    ArtFart spews:

    Dr. Schwartz is employed for his ability to do useful medical research, not his impeccable spelling and grammar. He has editors to clean up the glitches in what he publishes as part of his profession, but when he posts here his mind tends to get a little ahead of his fingers. Nonetheless, the coherence and validity of his thoughts come through all that pretty damned well. This is different from the snarky jargon indulged in by Puddy, Cyn and a few other trolls, which just by sheer coincidence happens to match closely the vernacular of some of the “personalities” on Fox–except it makes even less sense.

  40. 45

    Roger Rabbit spews:

    @43 You’re wasting your time. You’re not going to get anything from that blowhard except hot air.

    Of course, you and I both know what he’s talking about. He’s one of those sourpusses who thinks Sims was involved a corrupt conspiracy to steal the 2004 governor’s election.

    Never mind that the GOP spent $2 million peddling these accusations in court, only to get their asses handed to them by their own handpicked Republican judge in a forum-shopped Republican county, because they had no evidence.

    To whiners like “YLB is a racist,” Sims and King County will always be “corrupt” because they don’t see how Dino Rossi could have lost in a Democratic County unless the election machinery was manipulated — even though Rossi and his lawyers couldn’t prove a fucking thing.

    You can’t reason with people like that. If they want to believe the earth is flat, then it’s flat. If they have an emotional need to believe Sims stole the election for Gregoire, then there’s no room in their orthodoxy for truth or facts. Some believe believe in alien UFO abductions. In the part of our world inhabited by such small minds, truth and facts have no bearing, and you’re wasting your time arguing with them.

  41. 46

    Roger Rabbit spews:

    We have many examples of appointive bodies and offices in our own state, and their performance isn’t particularly impressive.

    In Washington, municipal judges are appointed, and some of them are awful. The appointed Medical Quality Assurance Commission hardly ever yanks a physician’s license, no matter how egregious the physician’s conduct was. The appointed Utilities and Transportation Commission, under Mark Sidran, stomped on the public interest when it gave Puget Sound Energy a rate increase and permission to sell itself to an Australian hedge fund. The appointed Fish and Wildlife Commission arguably is unrepresentative of, and unresponsive to, the hunters and fishermen who support that agency with their license fees.

    As long as we citizens have the right to vote for judges, we can get rid of bad elected judges, even though we can’t get rid of appointed municipal judges except by voting out the entire city government.

    For example, not very long ago, our friend Richard Pope ran against a bad judge; and although another candidate won, he played an instrumental role in removing a bad incumbent from the bench. Where would the citizens of that judicial district be today without judicial elections? In all likelihood, she’d still be on the bench under a retention-vote system.

    Goldy is worried about the influence of special-interest money in judicial elections. That’s a concern, of course, but there are other ways of addressing it. And that concern wouldn’t go away if we appointed judges instead of electing them, because the appointments will be the product of a political process, and that process will still be influenced by political money.

  42. 47

    Roger Rabbit spews:

    @31 “Not my words, at least not in this post.”

    Yeah, you did, at the very end of #21 you said, “How does our effed up system compare …”

  43. 48

    Roger Rabbit spews:

    @32 et seq.: What in hell are you prattling about? Or perhaps the question is better worded, what in hell are you smoking?

  44. 50

    Roger Rabbit spews:

    @49 I did my best to read your imbecile mind. I admit that’s a steep mountain to climb. Maybe if you’d be specific, we’d have something more than butt vapor to work with.

  45. 51

    Puddybud is shocked SHOCKED spews:

    ylb provide citations?

    It’ll be a shock if they are not from whackamole leftist pinhead sites.

  46. 52

    Roger Rabbit spews:

    As Washington already has appointed judges, we have a track record to evaluate. Several years ago, before conservative Texas interests bought the Village Voice chain of newspapers and ruined the Seattle Weekly, SW published an expose on Sumner municipal judge Eugene Hammersmith. It’s grisly reading, so have a puke bucket handy.

    Highlights: Judge Hammersmith threatened traffic offenders with life sentences; held trials in absentia; asked minority defendants whether they had legal immigration status; and even told Spanish-speaking citizens to learn English “as a rehabilitative process” or “leave the country.”

    All he got from the Judicial Conduct Commission (there’s that “commission” thing again!) was a recommendation for a 30-day suspension, which the state Supreme Court lengthened to 6 months; he wasn’t even kicked off the bench.

    So why did the city councils of Sumner, Orting, and a couple of other towns appoint this bozo to be their municipal judge? Because he raised lots of money for them by fining the shit out of defendants, and because they liked the way he treated people they considered riff-raff (e.g., wrong skin color, wrong language).

    Would the voters of those towns have elected a better municipal judge? Maybe, especially the ones who found their own tails in his kangaroo court. In any case, they couldn’t have elected a worse one.

    Appointed judges? Thank you, but I’ll pass. The judicial reform this state really needs is to make municipal judges elective positions, too, to keep provincial town councils from turning their municipal courts into bully pulpits.

  47. 53

    SJ spews:

    Rabbit .. try again

    Yeah, you did, at the very end of #21 you said, “How does our effed up system compare …”

    That sounds like me but I diod not post @ 21.

  48. 54


    I like electing judges, I trust in my own judgement on that matter above all others.
    How to provide the best possible candidates for me to choose from is a different question.

    I do not trust lawyers with exclusive right to select somebody with such power over their careers. That can only lead to a system managed for the benefit of the lawyers, rather than the people they are hired to represent.
    Why not suggest having cops select judges, damn near the same thing.

  49. 56

    Roger Rabbit spews:

    @54 The best way to assure good candidates is to pay judges enough. Washington’s elected judges don’t get COLAs. Their salaries are set by statute, and when the Legislature neglects to update the salary statute, established lawyers may feel they can’t afford to serve. There have been times in our state’s history when recent law school graduates ran for judgeships because there were no other takers.

    Practicing lawyers are better suited than anyone else to evaluate judicial candidates. Currently, some of the local bar associations publish candidate ratings, which voters can refer to when deciding who to vote for. I find these evaluations valuable, and use them when making my judicial voting decisions, as I usually don’t know the candidates personally.

    Under the appointive system described by Goldy, lawyers and bar associations would play a much greater role in judicial selection. They would screen the candidates, and then the appointing authority (e.g., governor) would select one, and the only say you would have as a voter would be to keep or can the judge when he/she came up for reappointment. This system is designed to weed out unqualified, inexperienced, or flaky candidates before they get to the bench. The so-called Missouri system implicitly doesn’t trust voters to perform that weeding process. Various arguments are put forth to explain why not. Having lived in both Missouri and Washington, I remain unpersuaded by those arguments.

  50. 57

    proud leftist spews:

    Do you think federal judges should be elected? Do you think interjecting politics at that level would be a good thing? Judges should not have to worry about where the political winds blow. They will, if they must stand for reelection. Earl Warren and David Souter were great disappointments to the presidents who appointed them. They, on the other hand, did a great service to the nation. Being free of the campaign system is a good thing for judges, in my humble opinion.

  51. 58

    SJ spews:

    @50 Roger PUHLEEEZ …

    You logic is very faulty.

    Seriously, you can not actually that the few folks who do vote for judge know anything about the candidates? If you really worry about the need to get qualified folks this seems like a bad idea.

    I would also suggest that the commission need not be comprised only of lawyers. Why should that be? Who decides on the hirng of corporate attorneys? Lawyers are skilled, just like accountants and engineers but no compnay would restrict itself to letting only its accountants or engineers choose a CFO or Chief Engineer.

    The neatest thing about the commission would be that it would move the politics from a contest based only on ignorance to one based on some knowledge on the part of the public. Whether the commission were elected or appointed by elected officials.

    For a rabbit you seem pretty molish on this issue.

  52. 59

    Roger Rabbit spews:

    @57 All federal judgeships are political appointments. You don’t become a federal judge without political connections. As for whether they should be elected, I haven’t thought about it, and can’t answer that. Such a move would require amending the U.S. Constitution, which isn’t likely to happen.

  53. 60

    Roger Rabbit spews:

    @58 “Seriously, you can not actually that the few folks who do vote for judge know anything about the candidates?”

    You could use the same argument to say a whole range of local offices — town councils, mayors, fire district commissioners, etc. — should be selected by commissions, because most voters know squat about who and what they’re voting for.

    Judicial candidates are self-selecting. You won’t become a judge unless you file as a candidate. Running usually requires a personal investment of time, effort, and money; and most lawyers won’t run unless they think they stand a reasonable chance of being successful. As a result, judicial candidates tend to be people who have certain credentials, support from their peers, and confidence in their ability to do the job. As a general rule, you won’t get candidates who have established and lucrative private practices. Many judicial candidates are senior attorneys in prosecutors’ offices, and a significant number come from the state attorney general’s office. Most of the rest tend to be mid-career sole practitioners or small firm lawyers. These people are generally OK. Because superior court judges spend such a large part of their time presiding over criminal cases, and reviewing criminal cases is a large percentage of appellate workloads, criminal practice experience (either as a prosecutor or, less often, public defender or criminal defense attorney) is nearly mandatory.

    When the governor appoints a judge to fill a vacancy, it’ll usually be someone the governor knows (because the lawyer has worked for the governor), or someone who is fed into the governor’s selection process via a local bar association. You don’t necessarily need political connections to impress a governor, but you do need a strong track record and supporters within the bar.

    A judicial selection commission need not be comprised only of lawyers, and usually isn’t, but lawyers necessarily will be on the commission, and usually will dominate the commission. Being a judge is a very specific job, with very specific talent and knowledge requirements, and lawyers are best suited to determine whether candidates possess the requisite abilities because a lot of technical knowledge is involved. It’s awfully hard to evaluate a judicial candidate’s mastery of current criminal law doctrines if you don’t know anything about it yourself, for example.

    A judicial selection commission is very much a peer selection system. Anyone who thinks it would eliminate partisan politics or political ideology from the judicial selection process is fooling himself, though. At the outset, politics will be involved in who gets on the commission, and the danger will always exist — especially if politicians are involved in selecting the commission members — that a party or ideology will get control of the commission and use that control to pack the state’s benches with party loyalists or ideologues.

    You say my logic is faulty, but in large measure I’m speaking to larger realities. In a state with a strongly and historically embedded populist tradition like Washington, how long do you think the general population would endure having no direct say in the selection of judges before they became frustrated and rebelled against such a regimen? I think the biggest question in this whole issue is whether the public would accept having their judges chosen for them by a panel of “experts,” and I believe the answer to that is no. For this reason alone, the scheme would be doomed to failure, because judges chosen by such a system would be considered illegitimate by a broad swath of the public, which in turn would undermine confidence in the courts and respect for the rule of law.

  54. 61

    Roger Rabbit spews:

    @60 (continued) I would add that the perception within the organized bar is there’s no problem with the current system. Our state generally has been blessed with a professional, competent judiciary, and the system has dealt successfully with the handful of bad eggs and ideologues who have surfaced over the years. There’s not a feeling among our state’s lawyers that any problem exists requiring systemic change. Moreover, any concern over special interest groups sponsoring partisan judicial candidates and/or pouring special interest money into judicial races can be addressed with technical fixes to the election system, for example, by mandatory public financing of judicial campaigns.

  55. 62

    Roger Rabbit spews:

    Maybe one of the reasons I don’t like judicial selection commissions is because I lived in Missouri back in the ’60s, at the height of the civil rights turmoil, and in those days that state’s entrenched, white male, conservative judiciary was anything but “neat.” A commission is easily captured by reactionary political forces and state courts then become a roadblock to social change.

  56. 63


    RR @ 60

    I feel like we’re talking past each other.

    Voters currently do not have enough information about judicial candidates to make informed choices.

    How do I verify that a judicial candidate is someone I’d support? They can’t tell me their position on anything.

    The available sources of information are:

    – endorsements
    – peer ratings
    – contributors

    You may consider the peer ratings adequate, but I (as the average voter) don’t. The ratings from the bar assoc, the muni leaque, etc. ranks someone’s qualifications, not their positions.

    What I do want to know, on the record, is if the candidate is a troglodyte [*]. I can ask, but they can’t answer.

    Moreover, any concern over … money … can be addressed with technical fixes to the election system, for example, by mandatory public financing of judicial campaigns.


    [*] Examples: flat earther, bought and paid for pro-corporate shill, creationist whackjob, libertarian cultist, property rights zealot, bircher, birther, nativist, racist, global warming denier, supported the war in Iraq, voted for Bush, opposed to stem cell research, etc. Any of these, and many more, disqualifies someone from serving in public office.

  57. 64

    Roger Rabbit spews:

    @63 The reason we’re talking past each other is because we’re thinking on different planes. You see judicial candidates as partisan politicians. Most of them aren’t. They’ve spent their careers mastering the intricacies of procedural and substantive law, and developing legal skill sets. Their abilities in these areas are relevant to their judicial aspirations; their political leanings, if they have any, generally aren’t. There are a few exceptions, e.g. Jim “Indian Fighter” Johnson and Jeanette Burrage, but you’ll usually know ‘em when you see ‘em. Even if you don’t, when you see BIAW or the U.S. Chamber of Commerce pouring big bucks into a judicial campaign, you know something is up.

  58. 65

    Bob Felder spews:

    Two words: Term Limits.

    If a judge (or justice) isn’t worried about running for reelection there’s less likelihood they’ll act corruptly.

    In contrast, if they want to avoid tough reelection contests they’ll act improperly to benefit rich interests who’ll help them get reelected.