When judges make headlines and their pictures appear in the news, the accompanying story usually revolves around a tragedy. This phenomenon seems to be more prevalent. There are three branches of government: the Executive Branch (President or Governor), Legislative Branch (Senate and House of Representatives), and the Judicial Branch (Federal and State).
The tradition in this country has been that the Judiciary stays above the politics that takes place in the Executive and Legislative Branches. Judges provide an even temperament in contrast to the two other political branches and apply the law even handedly. In recent times however, the Judiciary has been caught up in big money politics. As a result, we have judges who are currently serving who were put in office through political patronage and party politics. Obviously many of the judges who have risen through the political patronage process are not the best choice for their seat. They lack experience in the judicial process. A frequent topic of conversation among the trial lawyers in town occurs when a new judge is seated whom no one knows. The new judge is running a courtroom yet they’ve never been in the courthouse. Several good trial lawyers in town have aspired to becoming a judge and would make an excellent choice. Conversely, they have found that their skills in the law are no match for the big money party politics in the election process.
When a judge appears in the paper (and it’s typically not a good thing), remember the voters control who maintains judicial seats. At election time we send out a newsletter with our recommendations of who is the best candidate for a judicial position. Some of the candidates are frankly terrible. Some of them have been put in office either through the political patronage process or by the electorate. I urge you to get to know your judicial candidates. There are judges that are now serving on the federal bench (appointed for life) because they were plucked out of the ranks of the state court where they had been installed by appointment by the governor in a political patronage move. Those judges now serve for life as they have been moved up the ladder to make room for new appointments at thelower end of the ladder.