Changes have been made to Missouri’s non-partisan court plan, the method used to select the state’s appellate judges and judges in certain judicial circuits.
Chief Justice Ray Price says the primary change will be to make public the interviews the Appellate Judicial Commission conducts with candidates. Also, the votes for the three successful candidates forwarded to the governor will be made public and the public will be encourage to nominate candidates.
Price asserts that the Missouri Plan of appointing judges is superior to direct elections, especially since the amount of money poured into judicial elections in other states has doubled the past ten years, with most of the money coming from big contributors.
“I just don’t think it’s good when you have judges that are called upon to decide individual disputes fairly and according to the evidence and the law of that case to be beholden to anybody for a huge financial contribution,” Prices tells the Missourinet.
Price says he has no way of knowing whether the changes will satisfy critics of the Missouri Plan.
“Well, to the extent that the critics wanted transparency, this is a major step in opening the workings of the commission to the people and it should satisfy them,” Price says.
A major critic, the group Better Courts for Missouri, calls the move small steps, adding that “much more needs to be done to bring transparency and accountability to our judicial selection system.”
Judge Price announced the changes during his luncheon address to nearly 900 lawyers and judges at the joint annual meeting of The Missouri Bar and the Judicial Conference of Missouri at the Holiday Inn Executive Center in Columbia. Price told the audience that the changes stemmed from public input.
The Supreme Court earlier ordered that the names of applicants chosen for interviews be released to the public. Price called the additional changes “significant and meaningful”. He said they showed the Court’s willingness to listen to the concerns of Missourians and willingness to make changes to enhance the integrity of the judicial system.
In the speech, Price stated, “They show the Court’s willingness to make changes that enhance the integrity of the judicial system and that protect the honor of the rule of law. But most importantly, these changes will allow the people of Missouri to see for themselves how our nonpartisan merit selection plan works and why so many of us think it is crucial for justice in Missouri.”
The full text of the speech is available online.