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Is There Merit To Merit Selection: Should We Stop Electing Judges?

Recorded on: June 19th, 2015

Air Date: June 22nd, 2015

Most states, including Oregon, elect judges to serve on all of their courts. There are, however, those who suggest that the electoral process has problems. When judges must solicit campaign contributions from lawyers who could appear before them it can create the appearance of impropriety.

Both retired U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor and the Honorable W. Michael Gillette have come out against electing judges. Among his many writings on legal topics, Dean Emeritus James Huffman has written on reforming the election of judges. At City Club’s Friday Forum, Gillette and Huffman will discuss alternative approaches to selecting Oregon’s judges.

Some states have a system similar to the one used to seat federal judges, who are appointed by the president and confirmed by the U.S. Senate. Some attorneys and judges favor a system of merit selection, in which a non-partisan panel makes selections. Avoiding the necessity for financing election campaigns can prevent the disturbing potential for a wealthy individual or corporation involved in pending litigation to fully fund a media campaign in order to get a favorable ruling.

In John Grisham’s novel, The Appeal, a large corporation facing a multimillion-dollar toxic waste cleanup judgment funds a high-profile marketing campaign of a young lawyer with little experience. The manipulated young lawyer is elected to the Mississippi Supreme court and sworn in in time to rule on the case when it came before the court.

That fictional tale is based on an actual case. With no limits on campaign spending, it could happen here. Gillette and Huffman will outline their ideas on preventing such an event in Oregon.

Before serving on the Oregon Supreme Court for 25 years, Gillette served on the Oregon Court of Appeals for over eight years. During his service on the Supreme Court, Gillette was named one of the leading judges in America by the magazine Lawdragon. His earlier public service included a stint as a deputy district attorney in Multnomah County and as Solicitor General for Oregon. Gillette has also taught legal subjects at both law schools and colleges and received the Payant Award for outstanding teaching at the National Judicial College in Reno, Nevada. Since retiring from the Oregon Supreme Court, he has practiced law with Schwabe, Williamson & Wyatt as a shareholder.

Huffman joined the Lewis and Clark Law School faculty in 1973, became Acting Dean in 1993 and Dean in 1994. He returned to full time teaching in 2006. He graduated from Montana State University, the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, and the University of Chicago Law School. He has been a visiting professor at Auckland University in New Zealand, the University of Oregon, the University of Athens in Greece and Universidad Francisco Marroquin in Guatemala. He was also a fellow at the Humane Studies Institute and a Distinguished Bradley Scholar at the Heritage Foundation.

copyright, 2015