Friday, October 10, 2014
We don't really "elect" judges | Last Word
Some years ago I endorsed a young lawyer running for a Bexar County bench based on just one factor.
Getting her a regular paycheck was likely the only way taxpayers would recover the money we had lent her for law school.
The voters didn’t buy my argument.
Now comes, via Express-News Columnist Gilbert Garcia, news of another judicial candidate who had defaulted on his student loans.
Democrat James Rickerson, facing incumbent District Judge Sol Casseb, owes more than $212,000 for school loans and accumulated interest.
In addition, the IRS has filed liens of more than $51,000 against Rickerson for unpaid taxes.
Rickerson blamed the debts on his wife’s unsuccessful battle against cancer.
That is sad.
Also sad, in a cruelly comic way, is what happened when he and Casseb appeared before the Express-News editorial board for an endorsement interview.
Casseb charged that Rickerson wasn’t qualified for a district court bench.
As Gloria Padilla reported in August, Rickerson responded by saying he would quit the race if Casseb could prove he wasn’t qualified.
Casseb said on at least two occasions he had to rescue Rickerson in his court when the lawyer had presented inadequate legal documents.
What’s more, Casseb said, Rickerson had been dismissed from the Attorney General’s child support division.
Then Casseb produced a three-page letter on the AG’s letterhead showing Rickerson had been terminated because his superiors had “lost confidence in Mr. Rickerson’s ability to effectively manage his office because of his repeated poor judgment and legal deficiencies.”
Casseb quietly asked if, in light of the letter, Rickerson would quit his campaign.
“Never,” said Rickerson, who seemed blindsided by the document.
Perhaps the saddest thing of all is that if this were 2008 or some other big Democratic year, Rickerson might well be elected to the bench.
The fact is that for the past few elections cities such as San Antonio have lost good judges – both Democrat and Republican – because they happened to have the wrong letters after their name for that particular year.
Electing judges is not a bad idea – if there is some reason to believe voters know anything about them.
But once a county reaches a certain size, it’s silly to think that voters can know substantially more than what is on the ballot – a candidate’s sex (unless he or she has a neutral name like Jean or Shannon), possibly his or her ethnicity, and his or her political party.
Politicians and pundits say we voters should do our homework, but 47 judgeships are on the ballot.
How does the average person research the candidates for 47 benches?
Probably the best you can do is clip the newspaper’s endorsements and take them to the polling place.
They get to at least interview the candidates.
Houstonians have it even worse.
They have 72 benches on the ballot.
Eight years ago, they were all filled by Republicans.
They have since swayed back and forth, with candidates riding the national tides like leaves upon the waves.
The Harris County Democratic Chairman told me one of the most effective things a candidate could do would be to choose parents (or a husband) with a color for their last name.
I checked the previous election results and, sure enough, the Democratic judicial candidate who did the best was named Green and the one who did the worst ran against a candidate named White.
This isn’t an election.
It’s a lottery.
What would I propose? Simple.
Counties with a population of less than a million would elect their judges.
Judges from larger counties would go through an appointment process and then regularly be on the ballot for retention or removal.
Otherwise a candidate like Rickerson could just legally change his name to a color – if he could afford a lawyer competent to help him.