Minnesota State Bar Association

Judicial Elections Committee

Submitted by Thomas M. Neuville

The Committee uniformly recommends that judicial elections be eliminated.  I agree.

However, if we expect citizens to relinquish the right to vote on judges, another means of providing for judicial accountability must be substituted in place of popular election.

I do not believe that a single performance review, after the judge has served five (5) years, is sufficient.

Therefore, I would recommend the following changes to the proposal for a model system:

a.  That all judges would submit to a performance review by the Independent Judicial Review Committee every six to eight years.  The judge would automatically be retained, unless the committee voted not to retain the judge.  The review hearings must be public and allow for citizen comment.

b.  The Supreme Court appointments to the Judicial Review Committee should be excluded from voting for the retention of all appellate judges, not simply the Supreme Court itself.  Since appellate judges must be confirmed by the legislature, retention should also be decided only by the executive and legislative branches.

c.  The legislature may appoint its own members to serve on the Judicial Review Committee.  This should be stated explicitly.

I am somewhat concerned that judges, who are appointed at a relatively young age, could serve very lengthy terms on the bench without any performance review, after their first five years.  For example, if a person was appointed to the bench at age 35, they would have no further performance review after age 40.  That individual could serve between 30 and 35 years on the bench without any independent review.  Maintaining adequate checks and balances of the judicial branch is just as important as the goal of maintaining judicial independence.  The proposed model system places too much emphasis on judicial independence, and not enough on judicial accountability.

-Posted 11/25/03-