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Know your Missouri judges for Election Day

Know your Missouri judges video

COLUMBIA, Mo. - On Tuesday, many of us will head to the polls to select a new president, governor, senator and a variety of other elected officials.

Who will get your vote for judge?

You may not have thought much about judicial positions, but Dale Doerhoff with the Missouri Judicial Performance Review Committee is out our guest for "This Week." He tells us how to make an informed decision and why your choice regarding the bench is so important.

Here is the link to the website to yourmissourijudges.org

This is a transcript of the interview that aired Friday, on ABC 17 News at 6:30.

Dale Doerhoff: Well, it's important because fair courts are important. When people go to court they would like to have judges who are good, fair and impartial. And we have really good judges in Missouri, because we have really good institutions that ensure objectivity and quality of our courts. One of those institutions is the Judicial Performance Review Committee that I chair.

Joey Parker: Of which, you're the chair.

Dale Doerhoff: That is correct.

Joey Parker: And you work to, uh, educate people about this. You know, you may have seen a campaign commercial this season...maybe not. (laughs)

Dale Doerhoff: A lot! But you don't see judicial ones. You may see a sign or two. But how do people know the qualifications and skill of a judge?

Dale Doerhoff: We need to compare Missouri to states that don't have a system like we have. We have a pioneer system called the Missouri Non-Partisan Court Plan. It was adopted by the people in 1940, so it's something Missouri has had for 60, 76 years. Over 30 other states have copied parts...

Joey Parker: The Missouri Plan.

Dale Doerhoff: Of the Missouri Plan. That's right. Some states, like Illinois just to our east, do not have a plan like Missouri's. They have judges running in partisan elections and they have unlimited, apparently, money that can go into judicial elections. So you do see a lot of ads there. You do see people competing with money and advertising and unfortunately that creates the impression that justice is for sale. You don't get that in Missouri. The reason you don't get ads is because we have a nonpartisan plan, and it was adopted in response to some bad things that were going on in Missouri in the 1930s. In the west, the Pendergast Machine controlled the courts in the Jackson County area, and the influence of Mr. Prendergast went all the way up to the Missouri Supreme Court. In the east you had unfair justice because of ward politics, where who you knew was more important than whether you had the right side of the case or not, and it was controlled by the ward bosses, and so the people of Missouri got together and actually the organizational meeting occurred in Columbia, In the Tiger Hotel.

Joey: Oh Really?

Dale: In 1938...and the representatives of the business community, the Missouri Chamber of Commerce, the Missouri Bar, lawyers, citizens got together and came up with this idea that at least at the state level for the Supreme Court and for our courts of appeals, and also our trial courts in our municipal counties, St. Louis and Jackson County, judges should be appointed and retained by a different method than the old political system that was causing so much unfairness in St. Louis and Kansas City. So the idea came about the nonpartisan court plan, and under that plan a 3 member commission, a nonpartisan commission, actually it is more than 3, but they pick a panel of three, and they give those 3 names to the governor, and the governor has to select one from that list. And those people who make the panel are interviewed, they are interviewed publicly now by the way, and they are selected based on merit. At the Supreme Court level, and the Court of Appeals live they have a term of 12 years, but they have to stand for retention of election after they have served in office for at least a year. So they have an early retention election where people will vote on whether or not that judge should be retained.

Joey: And there is a way so people can do their research on a judge?

Dale: Oh absolutely, sure.

Joey: How do you recommend doing that?

Dale: Well we have a website: yourmissourijudges.org, and it publishes the information that our committee collects. And what we have on that website, the results of evaluations by lawyers who appear in front of the judges who are up for retention elections. Whether that is in the trial areas of the metropolitan areas, certainly the court of appeals and the Supreme Court even out here in our state, Missouri. That information includes things such as, does the judge treat people fairly, does the judge display fairness, is the judge prepared for court, does the judge give reasons for the rulings. There are a number of factors that people would like to see in their judge.

Joey: Alright finally, I am going to ask you this. For voters on Tuesday to go into the booth, they pretty much know what they are going to do for the other races. If they are just going to pick a name of a judge that may sound familiar, what is your recommendation on that, when it comes to selection a judge?

Dale: I recommend that they take the opportunity to inform themselves enough to make themselves feel like they are casting an informed vote, and to do that they go on our website, yourmissourijudges.org, or they get a pamphlet that is passed out and reproduced in the courthouse and other locations, but on there we do provide this merit based information. Now what we found, when we started providing voters with more information, and the nature of the information given, the percentage of people who actually voted in these retention elections went up. This and other committees like ours they help keep people informed about what is going on in our courts do contribute the overall support for fair and impartial courts.

Joey: Dale Doerhoff, thank you very much

Dale: Thank you very much.


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