Missouri’s system of choosing appellate judges takes center stage in the State of the Judiciary address, only thirty minutes after a House committee heard testimony on proposals to change it.
So many people wanted to testify before the House Special Committee on General Laws about the proposed changes to the Missouri Non-Partisan Court Plan that a second hearing will be held next week. A third might be scheduled, if needed.
The committee is considering two proposals to alter the Missouri Non-Partisan Court Plan, approved by voters in 1940. Rep. Jim Lembke (R-St. Louis) sponsors HJR 52 that would replace the non-partisan Appellate Judicial Commission with a bi-partisan judicial merit selection commission. It also would give the legislature and governor more say in the process. Rep. Stanley Cox (R-Sedalia) proposes HJR 49 which would increase the number of citizens appointed by the governor to the commission.
Several people testifying before the committee complained that politics has crept into the system. They say the process can no longer be declared non-partisan.
Missouri Bar President Charlie Harris of Kansas City rejected the premise upon which the proposals are based. He said the Missouri Plan isn’t broken and doesn’t need fixed. Harris told the committee Missourians adopted the plan to take politics out of the process of selecting judges and the proposals "politicize the system".
State Supreme Court Chief Justice Laura Denvir Stith used the State of the Judiciary to assert the plan uses the least political way to attract quality judges. Stith stated that the Missouri Plan has become renowned and should be treasured. Stith said changes are coming to make the process more open and to provide the public more information on judges who come up for retention, two of the biggest complaints lodged against the plan.