Missouri Bar officials oppose any change to the Missouri Non-Partisan Court Plan, but a key lawmaker says they hold a position not shared by all the lawyers they represent.
Missouri Bar President Tom Burke of St. Louis leaves little for doubt about his position.
"The Missouri Plan is alive and well. It has kept partisan politics out of the judicial selection process and we believe strongly that it should not be changed in any way," Burke tells reporters at a news conference held at the Bar’s Jefferson City headquarters.
The Bar has held a news conference in wake of House approval of HCS HJR 10 , which would modify the Missouri Plan. The Missouri Plan, first adopted by voters in 1940, is a merit selection process that chooses the state’s appellate judges, including those who sit on the State Supreme Court, as well as trial judges in the state’s largest judicial circuits. The Bar has opposed attempts to change the Missouri Plan in the past and says the latest effort is no better than previous ones.
Both Burke and Missouri Bar President-elect Skip Walther see no need to change the plan. Walther says a provision buried deep in the resolution approved in the House would place the future of the plan in the hands of lawmakers, giving politicians complete control over the future of the Missouri Plan.
That section would remove language in current law that calls for the State Supreme Court to promulgate rules for the election of appellate judicial commission members and make elections subject rules established by the commission as long as those rules aren’t superseded by subsequently enacted legislation.
House General Laws Committee Chairman, Rep. Tim Jones (R-Eureka), modified the original resolution in committee. While Jones conceded that the Bar might have a point as to that section, he expresses frustration that the Bar has refused to work with him on compromise legislation.
Jones rejects the Bar’s contention that the Missouri Plan shouldn’t be changed. He says he worked with the sponsor of the legislation, Rep. Stanley Cox (R-Sedalia) after from fellow lawyers.
"Some have been former judges, some are academics; they have all proposed ways to change the plan," Jones tells the Missourinet. "Unfortunately, the institutional Bar has so far been opposed to any changes whatsoever."
The resolution would add a lay person to the appellate judicial commission. It would subject more of its meetings and work to public scrutiny. It would allow the governor to reject a panel of candidates submitted by the commission and force the commission to submit another.
It has been sent to the Senate, where its fate is uncertain. If the legislature would approve the measure, it would go to a vote of the people.