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UWWM Discusses… Merit Retention

Welcome to the first installment of ‘UWWM Discusses...’  We want to talk about merit retention, and you will be getting input from many of our mediators. While we all have our own unique approach to life and to mediation and settlement negotiations, we all stand as one on the issue of merit retention and the important role it plays in our democracy. Merit selection and retention insures a fair, impartial and independent judiciary, the cornerstone of our judicial system.  I think I’ll begin my entry in ’UWWM Discusses’ with a little story…

Once upon a time there was a judicial system in Florida that required appellate judges to be elected to their positions and to retain them through reelection. There were some back room courtroom dealings and questionable judicial practices over the years, but many turned a blind eye, with heads buried deeply in the sand, until one day in the 1970s it became apparent that something was amiss within Florida’s Supreme Court. It seemed as though a few justices were meeting privately with a party to a lawsuit on appeal to the state’s highest court. And worse, it appeared that one of the parties submitted a brief to one justice which eventually played a significant role in the Court’s ruling in the case. Yuck, right?

Well, some clever law clerks and reporters got hold of this information. Investigations were launched and newspaper articles written which exposed the corruption and favoritism, resulting in the resignation of some justices, the disbarment of at least one justice, and ultimately, in 1976, a constitutional amendment that took Florida’s appellate judges out of elective politics. For a great read on this Supreme Court scandal read “A Most Disorderly Court:  Scandal and Reform in the Florida Judiciary” by Martin A. Dyckman.

Flash forward to November, 2010, when 3 Supreme Court justices in Iowa were voted out of their positions on a merit retention vote because of their unpopular decision on a social issue. Those unhappy with the Court’s determination on that one hot-button issue initiated a grassroots campaign, funded 80% by monies from outside Iowa, which resulted in 3 supreme court justices being ousted despite their enviable credentials and the fairness, independence and impartiality they demonstrated without fault over the years of their tenure. Scary, right?

Yes, it is scary, and unfortunately the sanctity of merit selection and retention in Florida may be challenged soon. There is an election in November at which time many District Court of Appeal judges and 3 Supreme Court justices face a merit retention vote. It is our job as lawyers to educate the voting public on the importance of merit retention and why protecting it should be important to all, not just lawyers. Read The Vote’s In Your Court material from The Florida Bar, then post it on your website. Go a step further and post it on your Facebook page, Tweet about it and put it on LinkedIn. Help get the word out that judges should be selected and retained based upon an understanding of their professional accomplishments and entire body of work, and that a politicized judiciary ousted at the pleasure of the vocal minority is not the way to insure justice is done.

I’m off to update our webpage and posts on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter. I will continue to update those posts until November elections are concluded. I hope you will consider doing the same and stay tuned for our next installment of ‘UWWM Discusses…. Merit Retention.’

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