Saturday, October 18, 2008

Steelman Says She's Against Greene Co. Court Plan

The State Treasurer Clarifies Her Position on A Greene County Ballot Initiative to KY3 Amid Confusion
PLUS: Greene Countians Against Question 1 Launch Website
Republican State Treasurer Sarah Steelman tells the KY3 Political Notebook she's opposed to a ballot initiative in Greene County designed to change the way judges are seated on the bench from election to selection.
The proposal is known as the Non-Partisan Court Plan, and it's Question 1 on Greene County's ballot.
"I don't recall being asked about the Greene County Non-Partisan Court Plan," wrote Steelman in an e-mail to the Notebook, after some supporters of the plan claimed the former candidate for Governor backed it. "But I do not support it. I don't support implementing the Missouri Plan in any county where it is not currently used," Steelman went on.
Earlier, backers of the plan had said Steelman supported the Non-Partisan court push.
James Harris of Better Courts For Missouri, a group opposed to the plan said that Republican candidate for Governor, Kenny Hulshof's support for Question 1 only tells half the story. "Hulshof has called for sweeping judicial reform at the state level because he like Governor Blunt recognize the personal injury attorneys have too much influence in the selection process," said Harris.
Still, Hulshof did announce at the Springfield Bar Association meeting last month that he backed Greene County's Non-Partisan Court Plan. He then went on to lay out some concerns with the Missouri Plan itself, which is used to select Supreme Court Judges.
Instead of electing judges, the Non-Partisan Court plan would set up a panel to select judges based on merit. That panel would include 2 citizens appointed by the Governor, 2 attorneys voted on by Greene County Lawyers and the chief appeals Judge. That panel would come up with a list of three names for appointment, and present that list to the Governor.
In her e-mail, Steelman went on to say that she supports the Missouri Plan with some changes, "specifically more transparency."
Chip Sheppard, a Springfield attorney who supports the Greene County plan, has said that the opposition group, Better Courts For Missouri, lacks transparency in its own organization. Sheppard describes Better Courts as "shadowy." "Lobbyist James Harris won't disclose to anyone, who is giving the big money he is spending," Sheppard said. "I think (that) violates Missouri Ethics Law," he added.
Better Courts and other opponents think the Missouri Plan, and the Greene County Non-Partisan Plan gives undo influence to trial attorneys. After Gov. Matt Blunt appointed Judge Zel Fisher to the Supreme Court this week, Harris used the opportunity to criticize the selection process. "It is obvious that more qualified applicants were not nominated, leading us to believe that political favoritism and strong bonds to MATA (Missouri Association of Trial Attorneys) were the qualifications that propelled Judge Fisher to his newly secured position," Harris said in a release.
Harris stresses to The Notebook that it's the same "Missouri Plan" that will be implemented in Greene County unless its defeated, "not some modified statewide version." In an effort to ramp up their efforts against the initiative, Springfield conservative Larry Russell has launched a website
"Greene Countians have been electing judges for decades, and it works for us, so I don't see any reason to import the problems of St. Louis and Kansas City just become some rich trial lawyers would rather pick judges themselves," said Russell, who is past president of the Missouri Republican Assembly.
For more on the debate over the plan, click HERE and HERE.

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