Thursday, February 02, 2006

Catching Up on The Political Notebook

If you don't swing by The Political Notebook every couple of days to check out the work Mike Caputo is doing, you're not only missing some interesting writing about Rochester and New York politics, you're also missing an opportunity to get involved in the discussion.

Between Mr Caputo and Curt Smith, Rochester has access to political commentary and analysis that is based on some unique experience. Regardless if you agree with any of the opinions they draw from their different sides of the political arena, I believe they are worth listening to.

Anyway, let's get into the details.

Caputo has had two noteworthy posts in the past week that deal with the process of electing judges. The first post goes into some detail concerning a state court ruling on the ways that the parties select their judicial candidates. The ruling, which can be read here, details incidents where political parties, at the local level, essentially stack things in favor of the slate of judges they want to run. In other words, if you want to run for State Supreme Court, without the party boss backing you, you aren’t going anywhere. Caputo shoves it all nicely into this nutshell:

Confused? Don't be. Simply understand this – delegates have the power to pick party candidates. Delegates are often people close to the county party apparatus. Delegate elections are obscure, and so those named by the party are rarely challenged.
That means, when it comes to state Supreme Court, there are no primary challenges in the traditional sense. Outside challengers must convince the delegates to accept you. The thing is - the party leadership always has a favorite candidate by the time these conventions convene. So an outsider has virtually no shot of changing minds at these conventions. And they can't run delegates because the process is so cumbersome (imagine trying to run a slate of your own delegates across the eight counties of our own seventh judicial district)
It really is a good piece that deserves some attention, mainly for the fact that it discusses something that doesn’t really get a whole heck of a lot of attention: the election of judges. Caputo also retells a local story in the ruling of Rochester City Court Judge John Regan and the troubles he faced when he attempted to run despite the efforts of the party leaders to stop him. Probably, this is the more fascinating part of the article. Just go read it.

The whole thing got me wondering, and I mean this in the most honest and innocent way: is the election of judges the best and most effective way to place competent people on the bench? I’ve often thought to myself on Election Day that decision I had to make on judges was the most uninformed vote that I’m asked to cast. I’m not saying they should be appointed, although I’m also not saying they shouldn’t be. In this one rare instance, I’m completely open to any arguments on how to improve the process.

Caputo sees the opportunity for greater discussion and continues it in this post.
This line of thinking reminds me of the arguments a few years back when the topic was whether judicial candidates should adhere to a code of conduct that keeps them from speaking about their views, their beliefs.
The Commission on Judicial Conduct, a state organization that enforces ethical standards on New York's judiciary, mandates that judicial candidates aren't to campaign in a partisan and political manner - only set out their qualifications to be a judge.
That’s where the problems starts. How do you illustrate the differences between the two candidates? Clearly, it won’t ever be as simple as: Judge Apple is for lifting the oppressive Lawn Jart Ban and Judge Baker is not. No. It’s always commercials that show them reading and writing, as if that’s not something anyone else ever does, while telling us how nice they are as a person. It’s never “Vote for Judge Charlie, he’s a hanging judge!” Which is to say, that is probably a good thing.

So what do all of you think? Is the system as it currently stands the best we can really do? Or does appointment make more sense? Or should we “unshackle” the candidates, as Mr. Caputo says in his second post? This area isn’t something that requires any immediate reform, but I think some discussion would be nice. Feel free to sound off.