Judges say politics are interfering with independence October 15, 2001 Assistant Editor Regular News Judges say politics are interfering with independence Amy K. Brown Assistant EditorA League of Women Voters of Tallahassee survey recently revealed that many judges in Florida believe politics are increasingly infringing on their ability to do their jobs.Florida’s 833 judges at all levels of the state judicial system were polled about their feelings on judicial independence, with 74 responding — about a 10 percent response rate. The responses were almost entirely anonymous, with judges only noting their years on the bench and the level of court they serve on.“This is a rare window into some of their thoughts and opinions about recent happenings that will affect the judiciary,” said Lynda Russell, president of the League’s Tallahassee chapter.Bar President Terry Russell said the survey was “a great opportunity to see how judges feel about judicial independence, which of course translates to their ability to be impartial, unbiased, fair, and unpolitical.”Russell said there is now a greater need than ever before to ensure the ability of the courts to protect and maintain their independence.“Judicial independence, of course, is the cornerstone of our democracy,” he said. “The fact that judges predictably believe they have to be free and independent to do their jobs is of extraordinary importance to a free and civil society.” A lmost 60 percent of respondents preferred appointing judges, according to the survey, and less than 28 percent liked the election of judges. The statistics also show that the longer a judge has served on the bench, the more strongly he or she supports appointment rather than election. For those judges with greater than 10 years experience on the bench, nearly 68 percent endorsed the appointment process, while for judges with less than 10 years experience, nearly 44 percent endorsed appointment, and another 22 percent had no preference.An overwhelming majority of the judges agreed that voters are generally uninformed regarding judicial candidates’ qualifications, and that there is no simple way to make them informed. Only two percent of respondents endorsed partisan elections for judges, and one commented, “[A]t least party labels would give voters some rough indication of the type of individual for whom they were voting.”The remaining 98 percent agreed that, if judicial elections were to continue, they should remain nonpartisan. The judges included comments such as, “Politics has no place in the judicial branch of government” and “Partisan elections would further undermine the public’s waning confidence in the judiciary.”Some of the judges expressed concern that elections of judges tend to be “popularity contests,” rather than merit-based races, and that the best way to guarantee quality judges is through the merit selection and retention process.Almost 77 percent of the judges believed the judicial appointment process has been fair, but more than 94 percent believed the new system — which gives the governor increased power over the appointment of judicial nominating commission members — will weaken the nomination process.While some respondents commented that the JNC system is biased “against the appointment of blacks and women,” many of the judges agreed the process has great potential for reducing the influence of politics in selecting judges. A weakness in the system, one judge noted, is the “public perception of the process being fixed.” Several judges called for more involvement from attorneys and the Bar, saying “the unfairness enters the system through the governor’s office,” and “the governor has too much control over the nomination process.”Others worry the new process will only increase the governor’s power. One judge commented, “[G]iving the governor a virtual veto power over commission members will ensure that nominees who share the governor’s political persuasion are chosen.” Some added, “Politics getting involved is never good for perception or reality,” and “merit has now dropped to fourth place, after race, gender, and now political ideology.”The judges’ recommendations for improving the appointment process were varied, but many noted problems arise when the Bar’s power is removed or lessened. Others noted “the removal of civics from our secondary education curriculum has eroded the public’s understanding of the courts,” and still others suggested a return to the former system. Legislative Involvement Nearly 96 percent of the judges believed the legislature should not be involved with judicial rulemaking. “How can judicial decisions be independent and unbiased if mandated by another and separate branch of government?” one judge asked.Almost 45 percent of the judges found that restrictions on hearing cases have limited their ability to render justice, but almost 81 percent said limits on judicial discretion have limited their ability to render justice. Many respondents cite sentencing restrictions and guidelines, and minimum mandatory sentences as having “taken discretion from judges.”“The legislature seems to want to. . . micromanage our sentencing process,” one judge commented. “[T]his can result in many forms of injustice,” another added. One judge even went as far as to comment that the legislature’s guidelines result “in the truly evil avoiding punishment and the technically guilty being senselessly incarcerated more often than should be tolerated in a free society.” Public Perception The Judicial Qualifications Commission system for disciplining judges effectively protects the public, according to 85 percent of the judges. Some offered suggestions for improvement, including “speed up the process,” and that it “should be more public,” but the majority believed the JQC disciplines effectively. Some, however, argued “there is a bias against conservative and elected judges,” and several others were not familiar with the JQC process or track record.The judges’ biggest concerns related to judicial independence seem evenly spread among the public perception that judges should be more responsive to the current mood of the public, attacks on the judiciary by other branches of government or special interest groups, and the failure of the public and the legislature to realize the need for a fully independent judiciary. The judges’ solutions to those concerns are fairly equally divided between education of the public and the other branches of government, and institution of merit selection and retention across the board.One of the most revealing statistics shows that nearly 95 percent of respondents admitted they are conscious of the ramifications of making an unpopular ruling, and 25 percent said this happens often. Although no respondents admitted this affects their rulings, almost 83 percent believed other judges are affected. Many of the judges commented that, “it’s part of the job”; however, some agreed it’s inevitable to worry about the possible ramifications of a case, given recent attacks on the courts and the increased likelihood for a judge not to be reelected. Others said they often spend extra time drafting an order or judgment that is likely to be met with negative public response, if only to “appear as neutral as possible.”“It’s not a popularity contest, and I expect I make decisions all the time that others don’t like,” one judge commented. “If I were concerned about making everyone happy, I certainly wouldn’t have chosen this profession.”Many respondents offered lifetime appointment as a solution to this increased pressure, and some suggested public financing of campaigns. However, the majority of comments recommended increased judicial independence and merit selection to prevent rulings from being influenced by public opinion. Several judges called on the Bar and other groups to educate the public, especially in response to the type of public outcry which resulted from the presidential election cases.“Although [the judges’] political parties and alleged biases were widely reported, when their decisions were impartially rendered,. . . nothing was said to correct the matter publicly,” one judge said. “It was a very, very unfair situation and very unfair to some highly intelligent, dedicated judges.”In his closing statements, Russell noted the league’s survey is important to all Florida lawyers, especially in light of requests by the responding judges for help from the Bar.“The Florida Bar stands firmly with the League of Women Voters with respect to judicial independence,” he said. The survey “is well, well worth review by the public, the media, and us.”The “Judicial Independence Project” survey was funded by grants from the League of Women Voters Education Fund, the Open Society Institute, and voluntary contributions from Florida lawyers.
As people stood in lines for hours to see President Barack Obama at the “Moving America Forward” rally on Friday, some said they were uphappy and inconvenienced by the event.Check the box · Students from USC and other schools held up signs encouraging people to vote in the upcoming midterm elections on Nov. 2. – Dan Doperalski | Daily Trojan The rally, which featured Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, gubernatorial candidate Jerry Brown, Sen. Barbara Boxer, actor Jamie Foxx and band Ozomatli, brought 32,500 people to Alumni Park and 5,000 people who overflowed into McCarthy Quad.Logistics, many said, were the main issue.Volunteers working at the rally said they felt the event was disorganized and they would have appreciated more instruction from volunteer coordinators.“I understand that it’s really tough to coordinate something that is so huge, [but] there were definitely parts that could have been improved,” said David Luo, a junior majoring in neuroscience who volunteered on Friday.Luo also said he was one of many volunteers who were unable to control where people stood based on their ticket color — yellow, green or blue. Discrepancies over the tickets and what they signified caused major confusion among attendees Friday.“The most unfair thing was the ticketing system,” Luo said. “After a while, there were just too many people rushing through and we couldn’t enforce anything.”From the safety standpoint, officials said the event ran smoothly. The event required the Secret Service, the Department of Public Safety, the Los Angeles Police Department and the Los Angeles Fire Department to work together to ensure safety for the politicians and attendees, said DPS Capt. David Carlisle.“That planning paid off for what ended up being a safe appearance by the president,” Carlisle said. “We didn’t have any major incidents, and I attribute that to all the planning. … It went extraordinarily well.”Several people at the rally, however, were treated for minor incidents, such as dehydration and fainting, Carlisle said.“We had multiple medical calls where we would have to respond EMTs. Most all of them were minor in nature,” said Carlisle, who also said these incidents are not surprising at an outdoor event where attendees are required to stand for many hours.One attendee who drove from San Diego to see Obama said she noticed several people whom paramedics rolled out of the crowd on stretchers.“There was a large crowd gathered on the balcony behind the pharmacy [on the steps,]” said Margaret Hokkanen, 50, a real estate agent. “After they cleared the balcony, people were taken one by one on stretchers.”Hokkanen said she saw one person receiving oxygen while on the stretcher,Students who did not attend the rally also said they felt inconvenienced by the entire event, making it difficult to get to class and walk through campus.Lyn Stephenson, a first-year graduate student studying writing for screen and television, said she attended class at a nearby coffee shop because of the chaos on campus.“As a commuter who takes the train, the shuttle unfortunately dropped me off near the growing lines in the morning. As I walked toward my class, I had to deal with crowds, the event organizers and news reporters,” Stephenson wrote in an e-mail.Stephenson said the shuttles were running late and were crowded with non-USC students, which made her miss her train while trying to leave campus to go home.“[The rally] should have been held at a different time. Even a few hours later would [have been] much more convenient, as the majority of classes would’ve been over,” Stephenson said. “If Obama is dedicated to our education, he shouldn’t have interrupted it.”
Warren Poh | Daily TrojanAfter kicking off the season with 27-3 and 24-3 victories over the Labor Day weekend, the second-ranked men’s water polo team is already looking ahead to taking on No. 3 Stanford at home on Friday.While the weekend games allowed the Trojans’ new freshmen and redshirts to get their first touches during a collegiate game, the team knows that it must be prepared to take on a full-strength Stanford team.“I think this weekend was kind of a confidence builder,” said sophomore 2-meter Matt Maier, who was named the MPSF Newcomer of the Year in 2016. “It kind of built that we are a good team, so I think that will help us this year and going into the Stanford game.”The Trojans have won five straight games against the Cardinal, and they have been looking forward to taking on their Pac-12 rivals again. But the team also knows that it must stay within the system that head coach Jovan Vacic has created, which has kept USC a powerhouse program for so many years.“We always approach it one game at a time,” senior driver Blake Edwards said. “You know, we have a very long winning history and culture at this program, but it all comes down to treating each opponent we have with the same level of respect, studying our opponents and [making sure] that we are well-prepared going into every game.”After the Trojans’ disappointing finish last season — an overtime loss to Cal in the NCAA Championship — the squad is ready to prove it can take the final step and bring home the program’s 10th national title, which would tie Stanford and UCLA for the second most all-time. “We didn’t really lose much from last year,” Maier said. “I think we are a much better team from last year, so I think we will be able to show a lot of people that we are going to be a really good team.”USC has already kicked off its season, but Stanford’s visit will mark the Trojans’ home opener. Playing at the Uytengsu Aquatics Center means the comfort of a home crowd and pool, and the team is looking forward to playing for fans, friends and family.“We love playing at home, especially in front of the band and in front of our crowds,” Edwards said, “But Stanford games always bring in really big numbers, so everyone is just really excited for the support.”Even with the support of a home crowd, the Trojans must be wary of a surging Cardinal team. Stanford is off to a perfect, 4-0 start to the season, and it already boasts three wins over ranked opposition — including a 21-5 drubbing of No. 10 Harvard, a 2016 NCAA semifinalist. In three games against top-25 teams, the Cardinal have outscored their opponents by a combined score of 61-10.Last weekend may have been a good confidence booster, but the Trojans know that each game presents its own challenges, and they are locked in on being prepared for each one as they come.“I just think we have to really focus on our systems and play in our style of play,” Edwards said. “I think if we can put that together, then we should get the result we are after. We know if we play our best water polo, no one can stop us this season.”USC takes on Stanford at 5 p.m. at the Uytengsu Aquatics Center.