Politics can never be removed from the courts, not even if judicial elections are replaced with an appointment system.
Would you rather have a say in the selection of judges, or would you rather leave the process to partisan elected officials and panelists with unknown political connections? Nevada voters have been asked as much three times, in 1972, 1988 and 2010, and decided each time that judges should be elected by the public. Voters want a choice.
As reported April 6 by the Review-Journal’s Jane Ann Morrison, January’s judicial candidate filing period closed with a flurry of race switches and political jockeying by political consultant David Thomas. Mr. Thomas represents more than a dozen candidates, including incumbent judges, and he openly worked to discourage local attorneys from challenging them, thereby leaving voters no choice in many District Court departments.
Attorney Randall Tindall alleges Mr. Thomas went too far in keeping him from challenging one of the consultant’s clients. In an affidavit, Mr. Tindall claims Mr. Thomas urged the lawyer to withdraw his candidacy against District Judge Rob Bare and promised campaign funding from personal injury titan Robert Eglet if Mr. Tindall instead challenged District Judge Valerie Adair, who is not represented by Mr. Thomas. Mr. Eglet and Mr. Thomas deny Mr. Tindall’s allegations. Mr. Tindall did not withdraw his candidacy against Judge Bare.
The most alarming instance of political persuasion involved District Judge Jessie Walsh, widely regarded as the worst state judge in Nevada. If any incumbent judge warranted a re-election challenge, it was Ms. Walsh, long one of the lowest-rated judges in the Review-Journal’s biennial Judging the Judges survey. Ross Smillie challenged Ms. Walsh, then was brought to see Mr. Eglet by Mr. Thomas. Mr. Eglet won a nine-figure jury verdict before Ms. Walsh thanks to rulings that favored Mr. Eglet’s case. After meeting with Mr. Eglet, Mr. Smillie withdrew and entered a different race before being bounced from the ballot altogether by an eligibility challenge. Mr. Eglet’s role in assuring Ms. Walsh’s re-election smacks of a quid pro quo, and his wealth — some of which was obtained with her help — has effectively made her bulletproof. As a result, the public is stuck with a crummy judge.
Politics can be a dirty business, even within the judiciary. It requires people of great conviction, confidence and integrity. It demands people who aren’t easily scared off. The best thing voters can do is pay attention and cast an informed vote.