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Propositions for the Judges

Critics of judicial elections have proposed ways to improve California's system of selecting its trial court judges. Two measures on the November ballot, Propositions 208 and 212 would limit contributions by an individual or company to all candidates for poltical office, including judges.

Proposition 208, co-authored by Craig Homan of the California Commission on Campaign Financing and Common Cause would limit contributions in local elections to $250.

Proposition 212, co-authored by the California Public Interest Research Group, CALPIRG, would limit contributions in local elections to $100.

"I suppose that's better than nothing at all, but that still doesn't address the problem of voter information," says Kathleen Sampson of the American Judicature Society. Sampson would prefer to see a "merit selection" process. Currently, the Governor appoints all appellate court justices and those municipal and superior court justices who retire before their six-year term ends. The appointees are reviewed to ensure they are qualified. The system is highly partisan. Critics note that half of the judicial officers appointed by Gov. Wilson over the course of his tenure have been contributors to his campaigns.

Instead of having the Governor choose the candidates, Sampson proposes creating a nonpartisan committee comprised of lawyers and members of the public who would solicit and evaluate judicial candidates. The committee would present the Governor three names from which to choose. Thirty-three states and the District of Columbia select some or all of their judges through the merit system.

It's not a bad idea, says Stephen Birblebough, chief counsel for the Assembly Judicial Committee. The Judicature Society has been pushing the idea for awhile, he says, but the concept hasn't caught fire among California legislators. Legislators view "elections as American as apple pie," explains Birblebough. They figure, we're elected, "why shouldn't [judges] be elected."

For more information on the candidates see Smart Voter. In addition, three judicial candidates have their own web pages:

Judge Edward Lee, Barbara Spector and Steve Nakano.

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