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We Need To Look At Our Judicial System For Access, Fairness & Impartiality

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By Hardy Brown

We the people get to elect our representatives in a democratic process, however there is one part of this democracy that is really not democratic: our judicial system.

They are sometimes appointed for life and there is nothing you can do about it. Yet, all of their decisions have an enormous affect on our lives, sometimes more than elected representatives. Partisan elected officials appoint Supreme Court and all federal judges. And the same is true at the state level.
Two years ago, the Supreme Court selected a president over the majority vote of its citizens and we the people cannot even challenge their decision. Michael Moore, author and filmmaker said in his book, Stupid White Men, during the count of the Bush/Gore presidential election, "By 2 p.m. the unofficial tally showed that Gore was catching up to Bush, only 66 votes down and gaining. With only moments to spare, they did what they had to do. At 2:45 that afternoon the Supreme Court stopped the recount. Two justices found themselves in conflict of interest. Justice Clarence Thomas’ wife Virginia Lamp Thomas, worked at the Heritage Foundation. She was hired by George Bush to help recruit people to serve in his impending administration. And Eugene Scalia, the son of Justice Antonin Scalia, was a lawyer with the firm of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, the very law firm representing Bush before the Supreme Court. But neither Thomas or Scalia saw any conflict of interest and they refused to remove themselves from the case. In fact when the court convened later, it was Scalia who issued the now-infamous explanation of why the ballot counting was halted."
In this past November election in California we had several choices for all candidates on the ballot except the judges. There were candidate statements printed in the voter information guide about various office seekers, about their background, and what they wanted to do if elected. Many of them sent us tons of information in the mail prior to the election informing us on what they had done or wanted to do if we voted for them. There was even information on the propositions and local measures explaining how they would impact our lives if we voted for or against them. They listed who was for it or against it. Their committees also sent information in the mail prior to Election Day.
Then along came the names for Supreme Court and Court of Appeals. Fourteen names in total. There was no candidate’s statement, no list of supporters, no previous performance record of their bench decisions, no opponents, no prior qualifying information in the mail about them before election day, yet they asked us to make informed decisions about them. This to me is similar to elections in Iraq. One candidate, one choice. When I view the recent judicial actions of judges in Riverside and how they handled the cases of the “Freeway Twenty” and the Rev. Bernell Butler, it leaves a lot to be desired. One contract judge in Riverside was signing a time card and getting paid on days the courts were closed. He never went to jail.
The actions of the United States Supreme Court that I mentioned earlier, in particular, makes me know something must be done to give the selection process to the people by requiring more information on judicial candidates. For those already appointed we should require a report card of their decisions in the voter’s information guide. We should also require a philosophy statement and reasons why we should vote for them.
When I went to the swearing in ceremony of Judge Richard Fields, the first Black judge in Riverside and heard of the nomination or selection process one has to travel just to get appointed, it became crystal clear why people of color and White women took so long to be appointed. It had nothing to do with how high your score was in passing the Bar Examination it was about philosophy, how well someone in authority liked you, how well you might fit in with the informal club, what kind of clients you represented, what your peers thought of you, etc.
With all of that in mind I believe we need to investigate how judges are appointed and then how some are voted on to keep their positions. I would like to meet with some lawyers to hear your views on this subject.

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