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July 30, 2008


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Every few months, Jack Lessenberry repeats his argument that we need to go to a system such as the one he described in the last couple of paragraphs above.

That kind of system is widely known as a "Missouri Plan." Liberals seem to like those kinds of systems. Instead of lots of special interest groups making publicly-disclosed campaign contributions to campaigns, where voters have the last word, the "Missouri Plan" puts everything in the hands of just one special interest group; the lawyers, who might just be the MOST specially-interested group of all when it comes to courts and litigation.

Best of all, after having had experience with the "Missouri Plan" for many years, guess which state is having second thoughts about it? Yes, that was an easy one.

Missouri. The Wall Street Journal had this observation of the Missouri Plan in 2007:


Oh, and by the way, Mr. Lessenberry was mistaken about no incumbent judges ever being turned out by voters. The only reason that I know so, with complete confidence and without having to research it, is because I knew, and appeared before, two local judges who lost. The Hon. Bryan Levy of the 46th District Court in Southfield was defeated in a re-election bid, not long after Monthly Detroit magazine did a review of southeast Michigan's best judges, and Levy was praised as the single best District Judge in the region. But he was beaten by an African-American challenger, a woman who was certainly not unqualified but who had nowhere near the experience and talent of Judge Levy. The Southfield electorate had changed. And in the 48th District Court, Judge Tom Brookover, another capable, community-friendly and honest judge was defeated by a female challenger who out-campaigned him. The woman who was elected is likewise a capable judge; I simpy preferred Judge Brookover's lower-key apporoach.

I honestly don't know what all of this means (besides undercutting Mr. Lessenberry's anecdote); but one thing we do know is that judicial elections in our region did turn out two competent white male judges in favor of two competent female judges, one of whom is an African-American.

Finally, I wouldn't take too seriously Mr. Lessenberry's concerns about the way that judicial candidates are selected in our state. If Mr. Lessenberry has so much admiration for the Missouri Plan, he should take comfort in the fact that in our appellate courts, we already have much of a Missouri plan. That is to say, of our current judges on the Court of Appeals and among our state Supreme Court Justices, I think I am correct in saying that most of them came to the appellate bench as appointees of a Michigan Governor, filling in for a retiring judge, and have thereafter been re-elected. The appointees have not been selected by a bar association committee, but they have been generally vetted for skill and qualifications by one of the two parties. Ironically, the one appellate judge who is the most notoriously eccentric figure in Michigan appeals is Justice Betty Weaver of the Michigan Supreme Court, whom Mr.Lessenberry has praised in the past, just as he too has acknowledged her sometimes odd demeanor.

Mr. Lessenberry did a good job of trying to promote future business for trial lawyers today, but he was a bit selective in his reporting.

Added note: I see that another attorney, one Stuart R. Shafer, had a similar comment with regard to the reelection of incumbent judges, although he posted it under Mr. Lessenberry's previous day's commentary...

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