State court seat most watched race - [Op-ed]
Steve Flowers, The Brewton Standard
February 28, 2008
With the start of the New Year, the presidential juggernaut bolted out of the gate with a cavalcade of early contests culminating with Super Tsunami Tuesday on Feb. 5, which included us in Alabama. The race for the White House has clear frontrunners earlier than ever in history. The early primaries have definitely had a winnowing effect. The process has weeded out the wheat from the chaff.
Even though the presidential race will dominate 2008 politics, we do have some state races this year. The highest profile race will be for the one seat open on our state Supreme Court. Justice Harold See is retiring. See saw the court see saw during his tenure. His election was the high profile ice breaker that broke the stronghold that the plaintiff trial lawyers had on the Alabama Supreme Court.
The court was all Democratic and all trial lawyer-oriented. We were indeed the most high profile bastion of large punitive judgments in America. Time magazine rightfully labeled us "Tort Hell." Alabama's business community, with help from corporate America, came off of their pocketbooks and got serious about changing our legal dilemma. See won with business backing and became the first Republican on the court.
After See it became a snowballing avalanche. Now, a decade later, our Supreme Court is made up of eight Republicans and one Democrat. It was nine out of nine until Sue Bell Cobb took back one of the seats for the Democrats in 2006. Our Civil Court of Appeals is all Republican. Indeed, Alabama's voters have clearly decided that they prefer Republicans on their state courts.
This voting trend appears to be as entrenched as our tendency to vote Republican for president. The practice of Alabamians voting for Republicans for the court has not been lost on the plaintiff trial lawyers. They are discretely backing their candidates in the GOP primary.
The Alabama business community takes these judicial contests seriously today. They do not want to relinquish control. They do not want to go back to the days of tort hell.
It appeared early that Jim Main, the governor's finance director, might be the frontrunner for See's seat. However, the business community quickly stymied that effort. They saw Main as a wolf in sheep's clothing.
Main had been a partner in the plaintiff law firm of Jere Beasley, Alabama's No. 1 plaintiff trial lawyer. Shortly after the Alabama Civil Justice Reform Committee endorsed Main's opponent, Greg Shaw, Main dropped out of the race. The business community's choice of Shaw made him a prohibitive favorite.
Greg Shaw and his wife have a unique place in state history. They both were elected statewide together on the same ballot in 2006. Samantha Shaw was elected state auditor at the same time Greg was to the Court of Appeals. Samantha Shaw is the quietest state official I have ever witnessed. She inaudibly runs the State Auditor's Office without any fanfare or publicity. Unlike other lower state office holders of the past and present, she does not constantly deluge the state with self-serving promotional propaganda.
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Judicial campaigns - [Editorial]
February 28, 2008
THE ISSUE: A bill that would limit the amount of money individuals and PACs could contribute to judicial campaigns likely won't pass this year. Instead, legislators should consider appointing judges.
Remember the 2006 Alabama Supreme Court election, the one that cost candidates more than $13 million - the most expensive court race in the nation? State Rep. Chris England does. He's introduced a bill in the Legislature that would severely limit how much money individuals and groups could contribute to judicial candidates. The problem is, it has virtually no chance of passage. Besides, it's probably unconstitutional anyway.
England, a Tuscaloosa Democrat whose father, John England Jr., is a former member of the Supreme Court, wants to limit campaign contributions to judicial candidates to a maximum of $1,500 per person or organization during an election campaign. That might sound reasonable on the surface, but there are First Amendment speech issues that underlie the bill that almost certainly would be struck down in court.
There is no argument that Alabama's 2006 chief justice election was an eye popper financially. The next most expensive judicial election that year was held in Texas - a state with much greater population and wealth - where a mere $3.5 million was spent.
So, what does a reform-minded lawmaker, who believes that the perception that money is subverting justice is undermining public confidence in the courts, do to make some changes? We suggest lawmakers look at appointing judges using the so-called Missouri plan.
Appointing judges would eliminate much of the politics and the financial influence perceived to be affecting the judiciary. Here's an overview of how the appointment process would work:
. The state Bar Association would submit a list of names to the governor. The governor would then select a nominee and submit the name to the Legislature for confirmation.
. Those appointed to judgeships would have to stand election periodically. It would be a simple up or down vote - no competitors would be vying for the seat. If the voters don't like the job the judge has done, he or she would be removed from the bench and the nomination process would begin again, as described in the previous paragraph.
Efforts to change the way judges are elected or appointed to the bench are not new in Alabama. Nonpartisan elections and merit appointments have been debated for 40 years, but so far, they have not gained significant political traction. The Web site for Alabama Judicial Selection, ajs.org, contains a history of state reform efforts as well as information about judicial selection in general.
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Free wills for first responders
By Tory Dunnan, WAFF-TV (Huntsville)
February 19, 2008
First responders are constantly putting their lives in danger to protect others.
In fact, we've recently been reminded of this more than ever right here in the Heart of the Valley. Huntsville police officer Eric Freeman lost his life in a shooting this past December.
"We'll unfortunately we have experienced two in the line of duty deaths here and it's a dangerous job. These first responders do a lot for the community," said Rex Reynolds, director of Public Safety.
A dangerous job for all fire fighters, police officers, sheriff's deputies and EMT's.
That's why volunteer attorneys are writing wills for free for first responders as part of the "Wills for Heroes" program.
This is all in an effort to prepare first responders so whether or not they make it home at the end of the day, they know their families are protected.
"We don't know day to day in this business what is going to happen next, so protect your family, wife, children."
Joe Lougheed with Huntsville Fire and Rescue is one of many first responders to take advantage of writing up his will.
All clinics will run from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Free wills will be drafted today through Wednesday at the Public Safety Training Academy. Thursday and Friday it will be at the HEMSI Training Center.
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Law Day contest for Boy Scouts set
Eric Velasco, The Birmingham News
Friday, February 15, 2008
A new Law Day contest sponsored by the Alabama State Bar provides the chance for Boy Scouts in central and northern Alabama to compete for savings bonds and work toward a merit badge at the same time.
To mark the 50th anniversary of the celebration of the role of law in society, the state bar has invited Boy Scout troop members from the Greater Alabama Council to submit two-minute videos based on this year's theme, "The U.S. Constitution: Foundation of the Rule of Law."
All entries must be posted on the video-sharing Web site YouTube. Two winners will each receive a $250 U.S. savings bond.
Planning and producing the video also will fulfill some of the requirements for a cinematography merit badge, which scouts earn to move up in rank, according to the Boy Scouts of America Web site.
The state bar also is sponsoring a contest for students in grades K-12 across the state to create essays and posters reflecting this year's Law Day theme.
"The theme lends itself to a variety of creative opportunities for students through the use of art, essays and video," said Samuel N. Crosby, the state bar president and a former assistant scoutmaster. "We want to ensure that our youth are equipped with the knowledge and skills necessary to effectively make their voices heard within our democracy."
Law Day, which was established nationwide in 1958, is on May 1. It's designed to celebrate the rule of law and how the legal system contributes to the freedoms afforded citizens.
The poster contest is open to students statewide who are in grades K-6. The essay contest is reserved for students across the state in Grades 7-12. A total of $1,500 in U.S. savings bonds will be awarded to winners in those competitions.
The video contest is open only to members of the Greater Alabama Council of the Boy Scouts, which serves 22 counties including those in the Birmingham and Huntsville areas.
Bar officials decided to limit the scope of the video contest this year but hope to expand it to scout troops statewide, Crosby said.
Officials also expanded the list of schools the state bar notifies about the essay and poster contest, with solicitations going to 1,800 schools this year, Crosby said.
Information about contest rules and entry forms are on the state bar's Web site, www.alabar.org/lawday, or can be obtained by phoning 800-354-6154, extension 2126. Deadline for video entries is April 1. Posters and essays are due April 18.
Study: Law schools not getting grads ready to enter profession
By Adam Linker, Baltimore Business Journal
February 22, 2008
Law schools need to do a better job of producing graduates ready to practice law when they enter the work force, according to a new report.
The study, called "Educating Lawyers: Preparation for the Profession of Law," was spearheaded by University of North Carolina law professor Judith Wegner, and it is prompting law schools to re-examine their curricula.
The report was originally published in early 2007 at the behest of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, but it recently gained momentum when the Association of American Law Schools held a seminar on the recommendations.
Two of the study's major suggestions are providing students with more practice experience and making better use of the second and third years of law school.
Wegner said the report was written to compare the strengths of different professional schools. Law schools are particularly good at getting students to think critically, she said. But medical schools are better at integrating students into their profession.
The first year of law school looks similar at all universities across the country, Wegner added. But the second and third years are more cafeteria-style, with students picking and choosing courses that interest them. The third year could be used for more focused training, she said.
Kaplan survey reveals new information - More women attending law school than in past, fewer aspire for political office
By: Paul Thompson, The Crimson White
A recent Kaplan survey of 1,949 students taking the law school admission test revealed a trend of increased political involvement among the younger generations.
Glen Stohr, director of Kaplan pre-law programs, said this trend could have been caused by the recent fervor in this election year, or it could reflect something deeper. Stohr also said the results of the survey indicate more young people are interested in pursuing careers in politics and law.
"Among all of the students polled, 42 percent said that they would 'definitely' or 'probably' run for political office sometime in the future," Stohr said. "Of the 42 percent of respondents who said that they would 'definitely' or 'probably' run for political office, 52 percent were male and 42 percent were female."
The number of female students who want to run for political office is less than usual, Stohr said. Stohr said the gender gap is usually very stark in politics.
"Traditionally, more men want to and do run for political office," Stohr said. "Women have become more and more involved recently, but the gender gap is still visible. There are encouraging signs that the gap is closing, however, but it may be some time before we see it equalize."
Students who have attended law schools are primarily male, though more and more female students have been selecting law as a profession, Stohr said.
"This survey, and others like it, shows that women have effectively closed the gender gap in the legal profession," Stohr said. "It will be interesting to see how political ambition trends play out in the future."
Stohr also said students' reasons for selecting law as a profession are as diverse as the students themselves.
"Seventy-three percent of those students who responded to our survey indicated that the high income potential was one of the reasons that they selected the legal profession," Stohr said. "Others wanted the ability to use a law degree to spring themselves into politics."
Stohr said he wasn't surprised by the fact that most people who hold political office were lawyers before they were politicians.
"The qualities that make a great lawyer also make a great politician," Stohr said. "That's why so many of today's politicians and lawmakers are lawyers."
Stohr said he would be interested in seeing the results of a similar survey conducted four years from now. "It will be interesting to see if these political ambitions that so many law school students are exhibiting continue after this election year," Stohr said.
Stohr also said that Kaplan is constantly conducting surveys like this one to provide the best information that it can to prospective students.
"We're constantly conducting surveys with new kinds of questions that help us to understand what students are doing and why they're doing it," Stohr said. "This survey is a part of an ongoing series that will show us the reasons students decide to attend law schools across the country."
How To Save Our Courts
By Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, PARADE Magazine
February 24, 2008
In my work as a Supreme Court justice, I was required by the Constitution to fairly and impartially apply the law-not the law as I wanted it to be but the law as it was. Now, as a private citizen, I am anxious about the state of the judiciary in America.
I am not concerned about particular judges or cases, nor am I concerned about the judiciary shifting right or left. What worries me is the manner in which politically motivated interest groups are attempting to interfere with justice.
The rule of law in the U.S. includes statutes and constitutional provisions. It also involves precedent, which is a previous judicial ruling on a matter. A judge typically defers to precedent. Like good cooking, good judging requires taking ingredients and procedures used successfully in the past and adjusting them to the case at hand. New legal recipes-or rules-can have major ramifications. So if a judge comes up with a new way to apply the law, her opinion may be reviewed by state or federal appellate courts to ensure that it is a correct interpretation of the law. If it's not, it's overturned.
Thus, our judicial system has safeguards to ensure consistency and preservation of the law. But it is threatened when judges ignore settled law and make decisions according to personal or public preferences.
The judiciary currently is experiencing unprecedented pressure from interest groups to make decisions that are based on politics. In Washington, D.C., we hear a lot about federal judges, and they have a critical role in upholding the Constitution. But having been a state judge and a state legislator, I know that the vast majority of law is state law. Ninety-five percent of litigation takes place in state courts. Many legal issues are primarily decided there, including divorce, property rights, employment law, product liability and medical malpractice.
Political pressure is a big problem in a number of our state courts. More than 89% of state judges go through some form of election process. Many of these elections recently have become full-fledged political battles, fueled by growing sums of money spent by candidates and special-interest groups to attack, defend and counterattack.
The money can be spent in polarizing ways. When Bill Cunningham was running for the Kentucky Supreme Court in 2006, one opposing campaign ad implied that he was responsible for letting six rapists out on parole. It said: "One had been on parole for only 12 hours when he raped a 14-year-old and made her mother watch."
This story was very misleading. Cunningham, then a lower-court judge, did rule to change the sentences of several rapists from life without parole to life with the possibility of parole, but these men all stayed in jail. And the rape referred to in the ad occurred 20 years earlier, before Cunningham was even a judge.
Sue Bell Cobb remembers speaking to a reporter the day after she won the election for chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court in 2006. Chief Justice Cobb expected to be asked how it felt to be the first woman in that job. Instead, the reporter asked: "How does it feel to be the victor of the second most expensive judicial race in U.S. history? How will you convince the people of Alabama that the campaign contributions you sought will not impact how you rule? How can we convince people their courts are not for sale?"
I imagine she answered much like Illinois Supreme Court Justice Lloyd Karmeier did after he won the most expensive judicial election in American history in 2004. That race cost the candidates $9.3 million, a sum greater than what was spent in more than half of the U.S. Senate races that year. Karmeier said of the money: "That's obscene for a judicial race. What does it gain people? How can anyone have faith in the system?"
Good questions. When so much money goes into influencing the outcome of a judicial election, it is hard to have faith that we are selecting judges who are fair and impartial. If I could do one thing to solve this problem, it would be to convince the states that select judges through partisan elections-that is, when a Democrat and Republican run against one another-to switch to merit selection instead. Under this plan, currently used in states such as Colorado and Nebraska, an independent commission of knowledgeable citizens recommends candidates to the governor, who appoints one of them as judge. After several years on the bench, the judge's name is submitted to the electorate, who vote on whether he should keep his position. This method decreases the importance of money and politics in the process while still allowing voter input on retaining each judge.
I believe the long-term solution to the politicization of the judiciary process is education. Children, voters, policymakers and lawyers all should be informed about the importance of a fair, impartial judiciary. Judges should write their opinions in plain English so that the public can understand what the law is.
You also should educate yourself, an especially important task if you live in one of the 39 states that holds elections for judges. Take these steps:
. First, learn about the candidates. That you agree with a person's policy positions is irrelevant to whether he or she would make a good judge. Evaluate them based on their ability to be fair, impartial and competent. Look for unbiased sources-many states offer voter guides and performance evaluations.
. Second, be suspicious if a candidate makes a promise about how he or she would rule in a particular case. Every case is different and should be judged according to how the law applies to that situation. If a judge decides a case based on a campaign promise, he or she has not upheld the pledge to be fair and impartial.
. Third, vote. Judicial elections tend to garner little attention. This is increasingly problematic, because interest groups often can be the main source of information. The only way to counteract this is to research the candidates, know where your information is coming from and vote.
I'm working with Georgetown University and Arizona State University on two programs on this subject. One is called Our Courts and will be an online civics experience for children. They'll be able to step into a judge's shoes so they can better understand what he or she does. The other program, the Sandra Day O'Connor Project on the State of the Judiciary, will create a dialogue between experts and law practitioners on the court system and report on the best ways to safeguard its role.
I hope I can make a lasting contribution to protecting our courts. We must preserve our system of government, a system for which I have the utmost respect as I reflect back on my Supreme Court career.
N.C. needs more attorneys
JANE STANCILL, The Charlotte Observer
February 27, 2008
North Carolina needs more lawyers, according to a report released Tuesday by the Pope Center for Higher Education Policy.
Robust population growth and new businesses have increased the demand for lawyers in North Carolina, according to the study. The report says North Carolina has fewer private-sector lawyers per capita than any other state (758 people for each lawyer).
The report also compares the state's law schools on key factors such as tuition, bar passage rate, debt after graduation and starting salaries. N.C. Central University's law school is only truly low-cost option for legal education in North Carolina, the report said.
North Carolina has seven law schools, including two new ones -- Elon University and Charlotte School of Law -- which opened in 2006.
Before the for-profit Charlotte School of Law opened, UNC Charlotte and Queens University of Charlotte studied opening law programs. UNCC officials said last year that the school's growing student body could push them to consider future professional programs, including law.
Among the findings in the Pope Center report:
. 46 percent of UNC Chapel Hill law graduates leave the state for their first job.
. The median starting salary for a Duke law graduate is $110,000; for UNC graduates, it's $100,000; for Wake Forest grads, it's $70,000.
. N.C. Central law graduates have a low debt load of $17,215, compared with $90,929 for Campbell law grads.
The report makes several recommendations, including expanding low-cost options for legal education and refocusing state subsidies so that students could receive in-state tuition as a loan or providing vouchers for use at private law schools.
The Raleigh-based Pope Center is a higher education watchdog group.
The legal education report was written by Andrew Morriss, law professor at the University of Illinois, and William Henderson, law professor at Indiana University.
Alabama chief justice warns of layoffs in courts
By PHILLIP RAWLS, The Associated Press
February 12, 2008
MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — Chief Justice Sue Bell Cobb told legislators Tuesday that the state court system will have to lay off employees without a budget increase. "With the court system, there is no fat to cut," she said in a "State of the Judiciary" speech to a joint session of the House and Senate.
The courts in Alabama's 67 counties are getting a state appropriation of $155.8 million this year to pay judges, court clerks, juvenile probation officers and others. All but $3 million of that is going for salaries and benefits, said Cobb, who heads Alabama's court system.
For the new fiscal year beginning Oct. 1, the chief justice had sought an increase to $174 million, but Gov. Bob Riley has recommended almost level funding of $156.9 million due to the economic slowdown.
"If we do not get the mandated increases in our appropriation this year, I assure you that it is a foregone conclusion there will be layoffs in our court system," Cobb told legislators.
The Legislature's budget committees have not yet started work on the fiscal 2009 General Fund budget, which finances the courts. The Legislature's budget work likely won't be completed until May.
Cobb noted that she was the first chief justice invited to give a "State of the Judiciary" speech to a joint session of the Legislature since Chief Justice Sonny Hornsby in 1989.
She said judges are trying to help ease the growing number of state prisoners by developing drug courts and using community corrections. Both programs keep nonviolent offenders out of prison by letting them remain in their communities with intensive monitoring. Drug court also involves random drug tests 10 to 12 times monthly to make sure participants stay off drugs.
"By this time next year, I believe we will be able to report a decline in Alabama's prison population without compromising public safety. In fact, we will be enhancing public safety," Cobb told legislators.
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State Bar announces poster, essay, video contests for Law Day
The Montgomery Independent
Friday, February 08, 2008
Montgomery - The Alabama State Bar is calling for entries from students in grades K-12 across the state for its annual contest celebrating Law Day which is observed on May 1. This is the 50th anniversary of the event and the theme is, "The U.S. Constitution: Foundation of the Rule of Law."
State Bar President Samuel N. Crosby (Stone, Granade &Crosby P.C., Daphne) said, "This year's theme is especially meaningful because many people do not make the connection between the rule of law and their daily livestheir safety, jobs, health, education, and liberty. The rule of law refers to a form of self-government with a strong and accessible legal process. It features a system based on fair, publicized, broadly understood and stable laws, and diverse, competent, and independent lawyers and judges. Advancing the rule of law helps achieve an array of public benefits."
Complete information and entry forms can be found on the Alabama State Bar Web site at www.alabar.org/lawday or by calling the state bar at 800-354-6154, extension 2126, for contest entry information. The deadline for submitting video entries is April 1, 2008; poster and essay entries are due April 18, 2008.
Montgomery lawyers Thomas B. Klinner (state Department of Mental Health), and Gregg Brantley Everett (Kaufman &Rothfeder) serve as co-chairs of the state bar's Law Day committee. The poster contest is open to grades K-6 and the essay contest is for students in grades 7-12. A total of $1500 in U.S. Savings bonds will be awarded to winners. Teachers also receive a monetary gift for use in the classroom.
"The theme lends itself to a variety of creative opportunities for students through the use of art, essays and video. We want to ensure that our youth are equipped with the knowledge and skills necessary to effectively make their voices heard within our democracy." Crosby said.
The 15,700-member Alabama State Bar is dedicated to promoting the professional responsibility, competence and satisfaction of its members; improving the administration of justice and increasing public understanding and respect for the law.
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Fix death penalty now – [Editorial]
The Birmingham News
Monday, February 11, 2008
THE ISSUE: State legislators should call a temporary halt to executions and fix the glaring flaws with Alabama's use of the death penalty.
You don't have to oppose the death penalty to want to make sure it's applied fairly and accurately.
That being the case, support for a temporary halt to executions is not incompatible with support for the death penalty. If only the state Legislature recognized that.
Lawmakers already are offering dim chances for state Sen. Hank Sanders' perennial bill calling a three-year halt to executions, a moratorium that would allow time to fix some of the most grievous problems with death penalty cases. Even Sanders, who tries to sound optimistic, admits the measure faces "an uphill climb."
The reason is obvious. Lawmakers fear being branded soft on crime. But that's shortsighted thinking.
Sanders' proposal would tackle some of the weaknesses that make many reasonable people squeamish about the death penalty - including people who otherwise support the death penalty. Even the most ardent defender of capital punishment doesn't want to see the wrong person put to death for a crime, a possibility that has become far more conceivable as DNA science revealed the fallibility of our court system.
Among other things, Sanders' proposal would use the moratorium period to require the state to begin following American Bar Association guidelines to ensure that appointed defense lawyers have the right experience and training to handle death-penalty cases. This provision alone would go a long way to preventing miscarriages of justice in capital cases.
Importantly, Sanders' bill also calls for some kind of safeguards to ensure race doesn't play a role in who gets the death penalty. As it stands, the race of the victim in particular seems to play a big role in determining who receives the ultimate punishment. While most murder victims are black, the overwhelming number of cases that end with a death sentence involve white murder victims. When you strip away all other variables, the only conclusion that can be reached is that the system places a higher value on white life than black life.
To fix these flaws is not to endorse abolishing the death penalty (although this newspaper is in favor of both). A poll in recent years demonstrated that Alabamians understand the distinction. While most Alabamians supported the death penalty, according to the Alabama Education Association poll, a solid majority favored a temporary halt in executions to address the kinds of issues covered in Sanders' bill.
Still, Sanders' moratorium bill has never gathered much steam in the Legislature. For at least two years, it made it out of a Senate committee. That is farther than some good bills went, but is still not far enough.
Lawmakers as a whole need to recognize they can support the death penalty and still want to fix some of its worst features.
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Hybrid systems will increase the odds of trustworthy courts
Charlie Mitchell, Executive Editor, The Vicksburg Post (Mississippi)
February 7, 2008
VICKSBURG — There's a new smattering of chatter around the state about how Mississippi selects judges.
That's all well and good, but any talk about electing vs. appointing should be about which method increases the odds of getting better-qualified judges. It shouldn't be a reaction to the courtroom-centered scandals making headlines around the state. There's simply no connection.
The basics are that Mississippi is one of the few states that elects all state court judges from justice courts, where speeding tickets are paid, to the Supreme Court, where defendants can literally live or die based on judicial interpretations.
The opposite is true in the federal system where no judges are elected. All are appointed by the person serving as president of the United States when a vacancy occurs.
Most states now use hybrid selection-election systems that differ only in the details.
What electing, selecting and the hybrids all have in common is that a goofball can still get through and make it to the bench. It's also possible through all methods to get top-notch jurists.
The analogy would be to appointed vs. elected school superintendents, another frequent topic in Mississippi where the method of naming district education chiefs varies district-to-district. For generations now, state Department of Education leaders have lobbied for all superintendents to be picked by school board members, not voters at large. But in and of itself appointing a superintendent doesn't guarantee competence any more than electing guarantees incompetence.
Again, it's about the odds. No system is foolproof.
When it comes to the judiciary, however, there are two points arguing for a hybrid system, especially for the state's two appeals courts as Supreme Court Chief Justice Jim Smith desires.
One - and these are not the reasons Smith cited - is that electing judges, especially for the higher courts, is a process that has been hijacked in recent years.
Once upon a time in the world of law, most lawyers and most judges were "generalists." In those days, and they weren't that long ago, most attorneys accepted whatever clients walked through the door and, if they had a conflict that couldn't be resolved outside a courtroom, they wound up in front of a judge who was neutral in every sense of the word.
Big money changed that. There are still plenty of generalists in practice, but during the past 15 or 20 years the high-dollar lawyers divided into plaintiffs and defense camps - both potentially very lucrative. Under Mississippi's weak campaign finance disclosure laws, the camps have backed the election of judges they believed most sympathetic to their positions.
The second big reason for a hybrid system is the very fact of having to campaign.
These days qualifying periods are almost a year before anyone goes to polls and there just aren't a lot of attorneys willing to take that kind of time away from their practice.
Under a hybrid system, any member of the state bar interested in being a judge could complete a form and be placed on a list. In the case of an opening, a review panel - not made up entirely of lawyers - would review and rank the applicants based on scholarship, experience and temperament. The list would go to the governor, who would have to pick from the list. The Legislature would have the role of advise and consent. And then the judge's name would go on ballots every four years or so with "keep" or "remove" as the people's choices.
Pay is also important. Right now, the bar says a Mississippi judge makes $45,000 less than the average sole practitioner and $120,000 less than the average partner. Gaps that big almost guarantee trouble.
So consider changing how Mississippi gets its judges. But don't base it on today's headlines. Base it on improving the odds of getting and keeping the best possible.
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ABA OKs Conditional Admission to Bar for Would-Be Lawyers with Addiction, Mental Problems
By Edward A. Adams, The ABA Journal
February 11, 2008
The ABA has adopted a model rule that would grant conditional admission to the practice of law to applicants who have experienced chemical dependency or mental health conditions that otherwise would have rendered the applicants unfit to practice law. The rule would grant conditional admission to such applicants who demonstrate recent rehabilitation from chemical dependency or successful treatment for mental illness.
The measure was adopted early this afternoon by the 555-member House of Delegates at the ABA Midyear Meeting in Los Angeles. It carried by a voice vote. The measure is advisory only; bar admission authorities in individual states must adopt it for it to take effect.
Commentary on Resolution 112 was revised over the weekend; this is the unrevised version (DOC). The revised commentary leaves to state bar admission authorities to determine whether the public would be made aware of the conditional nature of the admission.
Nineteen states and Puerto Rico already have adopted various versions of a conditional admission rule, according to a report to the House from the Commission on Lawyer Assistance Programs, the primary sponsor of the recommendation.
Robert Childers—chair of the commission and a state circuit court judge in Memphis, Tenn.—noted the growing stress many attorneys face. “In an 18-month period, we in Tennessee have had nine lawyer suicides. In Oklahoma, they have been averaging one lawyer suicide a month,” he said.
The measure is to be used only when bar admission authorities have a “concern about the ability [of an applicant] to sustain their recovery, given the stress of practice,” Childers said. The resolution recommends that conditional nature of the admission would be disclosed only to disciplinary authorities, not the public, he said. Lawyers would not have to tell clients they were admitted conditionally.
James F. Williams, a delegate from the Washington State Bar Association and partner at Seattle’s Perkins Coie, opposed the measure because of the lack of disclosure. “If our citizens knew its bar association withheld information, they wouldn’t be happy at all,” he said. “The practice of law is a privilege. Not everyone should be allowed to practice law.”
Michael S. Greco, a former ABA president and partner in the Boston office of Kirkpatrick and Lockhart Preston Gates Ellis, countered that “when a family member or a friend falls ill, what do we do? We encourage treatment. That’s what anyone would do. So why don’t we do it for law students who are suffering in one way or another? At the moment that law student is on the horns of a dilemma. They are constrained from seeking help because they’ll have to disclose it [when they seek admission]. We could lose a lawyer who could be an outstanding member of our profession.”
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Gorman R. Jones Jr.- [Obituary Notice]
February 13, 208
Gorman Robinson Jones Jr., of Sheffield, Ala., died at age 88 on Feb. 12 in Birmingham, Ala., after an extended illness. He was born in Sheffield, Ala., on Oct. 24, 1919. He was a graduate of Marion Military Institute, the University of Alabama and the University of Alabama School of Law. After law school, he served as law clerk for Judge Clarence Mullins in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Alabama from 1943-1945 and then became an Assistant U.S. Attorney from 1945-1947 before returning to Sheffield, where he practiced law for more than 55 years until his retirement. He was a member of the Alabama State Bar and the American Bar Association and served on the Alabama State Bar Board of Commissioners from 1981-1993 for the 31st Judicial Circuit. In 1993, he became a fellow of the Alabama Law Foundation. He was a member of Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity. He was an elder of First Presbyterian Church, of Sheffield, where he was a co-teacher of the Men's Bible Class for many years. He served for many years as chairman of the board of education of the Sheffield City School System. He was preceded in death by his wife of 56 years, Llewellyn Childress Jones, and his parents, Gorman Robinson Jones and Aline Drake Jones. He is survived by his daughters, Llewellyn Parks, Sheffield, Ala., Cecelia Talley, Jacksonville, Ala., Shaler Gentry, Knoxville, Tenn.; son, Gorman R. Jones III, M.D., Birmingham, Ala.; grandsons, Michael Gorman Parks, Burton Kelly Parks and Brian Patrick Gentry; sister, Aline Drake Bartley, Memphis, Tenn.; as well as nieces and nephews. The family also wishes to thank Dr. Richard Deal, of Sheffield, Ala., Mrs. Clezell Prince, the staff of Kirkwood by the River, the staff of Morningside of Sheffield, and his longtime secretary, Mrs. Louise Enoch. In lieu of flowers, the family suggests that memorial contributions be made to First Presbyterian Church, of Sheffield, Ala., or a favorite charity. After a private family burial at Oakwood Cemetery in Sheffield, a memorial service will be at First Presbyterian Church, of Sheffield, Ala., on Thursday, Feb. 14, at 2 p.m. Honorary pallbearers will be Ray Azbell, George Carter, Braxton Ashe, Ian Sanford, Richard Deal, Jim Thompson and William Earl Roper. The family will receive visitors at the church after the service. Morrison Funeral Home, of Tuscumbia, is directing.
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Religion Joins Custody Cases, to Judges’ Unease
By NEELA BANERJEE, The New York Times
February 13, 2008
MADISON, Ala. — On a January night nine years ago, Laura Snider was saved. A 27-year-old single mother at the time, Mrs. Snider felt she had ruined her life through a disastrous marriage and divorce. But in her kitchen that night, after reading pamphlets and Bible passages that her boss had pointed her to, she realized she was a sinner, she said, she prayed for forgiveness, and put her trust in Christ.
Four years later, the conservative brand of Christianity Mrs. Snider embraced became the source of a bitter, continuing custody battle over her only child, Libby Mashburn.
Across the country, child-custody disputes in which religion is the flash point are increasing, part of a broader rise in custody conflicts over the last 30 years, lawyers, judges and mediators say.
“There has definitely been an increase in conflict over religious issues,” said Ronald William Nelson, a Kansas family lawyer who is chairman of the custody committee of the American Bar Association’s family law section. “Part of that is there has been an increase of conflicts between parents across the board, and with parents looking for reasons to justify their own actions.” Another factor, he said, is the rise of intermarriage and greater willingness by Americans to convert.
Nobody keeps track of who wins in these religious disputes, but lawyers say that judges are just as likely to rule in favor of the more religiously engaged parent as the other way around. That is because, for constitutional reasons, judges are reluctant to base their rulings primarily on the religious preferences of parents.
Judges do not want to take on custody disputes rooted in religion, said lawyers like Gaetano Ferro, who until recently served as president of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers. Mr. Ferro said, “How will a judge say in any rational fashion that Islam is better than Buddhism, Catholicism better than Judaism, or Methodism better than Pentecostalism?”
As a result, more and more states have tried to keep custody disputes out of court by mandating mediation. But the effect has been piecemeal, and religious disputes have proven to be among the most difficult to resolve, lawyers said.
From the age of 1 month, Mrs. Snider’s daughter had lived with her, and later Mrs. Snider’s new husband, Brian Snider, with occasional visits to her biological father.
But in 2003, when Libby was 6, an Alabama court gave primary custody to her father, William Mashburn, after he and Mrs. Snider’s own family argued that the strict religious upbringing Libby received at her mother’s home, which involved modest dress, teachings about sin and salvation, and limited exposure to popular culture, was damaging her.
“We were easy targets because we were made to look like cultists,” Mrs. Snider, 36, said. “I think whether anyone admits it or not, almost all of the ruling had to do with religion. Nothing I had done was called into question except that.”
Generally, custody disputes are resolved outside the courtroom, lawyers said.
Such cases have increased, however, because a generation ago, mothers almost always got custody and were responsible for nearly all aspects of children’s upbringing. But now, both parents are usually involved in raising children after divorce, and that can lead to dispute. Data regarding custody cases are not uniform, according to the National Center for State Courts, but for 10 states for which it has data from 2002, all show an increase in custody cases coming to trial.
Conflicts sometimes arise when an interfaith marriage dissolves or when one parent converts to a different religion after divorce.
In Oregon, a dispute between James Boldt and his former wife, Lia, was recently decided by the State Supreme Court. Mr. Boldt, the custodial parent, converted to Judaism after the divorce and sought to have their son, now 12, convert, and be circumcised.
The court ruled that custodial parents could generally decide if a child should be circumcised. But given the son’s age, it ordered the lower court to ascertain his wishes. If they conflict with his father’s, the court may have to reconsider the custody arrangement, the court ruled.
Tensions can emerge when one parent takes a turn toward fundamentalism. In 2006, the United States Supreme Court let stand a decision by the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania that permitted Stanley Shepp to tell his 14-year-old daughter about polygamy.
Mr. Shepp and his former wife, Tracey Roberts, were Mormons living in York, Pa., when they married. But Mr. Shepp espoused polygamy as a tenet of their faith.
Ms. Roberts contends that Mr. Shepp spoke to one of her daughters from a previous marriage about marrying him, which he denies. She left Mr. Shepp and has primary custody of their daughter. He was excommunicated by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for his polygamist views and is now part of a Mormon fundamentalist movement in Utah.
Mr. Shepp petitioned for better-defined custody rights for his daughter, but Ms. Roberts objected because he had exposed the child to polygamist Mormon communities. The court upheld Mr. Shepp’s right to teach his daughter about polygamy, saying it could not find evidence that such teaching harmed her physical or mental health.
Judges risk violating the separation of church and state if they try to choose the faith a child should be raised in, legal experts said. But in situations like Libby Mashburn’s, judgments about parenting can become entwined with religion.
In upholding the rulings of lower courts to grant primary custody to Mr. Mashburn, the Supreme Court of Alabama said the Sniders’s involvement in missionary work took Libby away from her extended family in Alabama. The Sniders are quietly, unapologetically fundamentalist. They believe that American culture, even conservative denominations like the Southern Baptist Convention, has drifted perilously far from biblical teachings. They attend a large Independent Baptist church in Madison, where the music, the sanctuary and the congregants are unadorned and old-fashioned.
Women wear skirts as a sign of modesty. They do not swim in mixed company. They eschew rock music and nearly all popular culture. They do not drink, smoke or swear.
The Sniders have raised Libby, now 11, in that tradition. But it has put them at odds with Mr. Mashburn and Mrs. Snider’s family. Mr. Mashburn and his lawyer declined to comment .
Mrs. Snider said she understood that Libby might wear pants at her father’s home or go to the movies. But she insisted that Mr. Mashburn not swear or drink in front of Libby or expose her to inappropriate movies and music, which, she said, he has repeatedly done.
The Sniders have repeatedly appealed to win back primary custody. They are awaiting yet another decision from a hearing in November.
At the last hearing, Libby, who spends about 40 percent of her time with the Sniders, testified against Mr. Mashburn.
“I’m more of my mom’s religion, and my dad sometimes talks bad about my mom,” she said. “He called it a cult, and it’s definitely not a cult. It kind of makes me mad sometimes. Maybe he thinks her religion may be bad for me, but I think mainly he doesn’t like my mom and is using that as an excuse.”
Some states like California and Connecticut have taken innovative steps to get parents to resolve custody issues outside court. In Connecticut, for example, those seeking a court order have to meet with a family-relations specialist in an effort to negotiate. If that fails, they attend a daylong session to settle their differences before a panel that includes a lawyer and a mental health professional.
Even after a case goes to court, little may be resolved.
Aaron Petty of Minneapolis and Gineen Gove of Black River Falls, Wis., had their daughter, Basyl, 17 years ago. The couple split up when Basyl was 4. Soon afterward, Ms. Gove married, and she and her husband converted to Old Order Amish.
As Mr. Petty saw his daughter over the years, he became concerned, he said, when Basyl was about 11 and he learned that the Goves would not let her go to school past eighth grade, a common decision among the Amish. Mr. Petty petitioned for primary custody so that Basyl might continue her education. “This case wasn’t about religion for me,” he said. “It was about her education.”
He won the case when Basyl was 14, but she disappeared. Mr. Petty said he suspected Basyl was living within the Amish community. The Goves declined to talk about the case.“I wanted to offer my daughter options for her future, in case she grew up and didn’t remain Amish,” Mr. Petty said in a phone interview. “At 12, 13, 14, making lasting drastic decisions based on faith isn’t an appropriate time.”
Mr. Petty’s voice caught as he continued. “Was that case worth fighting? In hindsight, no. I haven’t seen my daughter in two-and-a-half years.”