I thought it might be good to take a look at how judicial races turned out around the country last month. Voters, for the most part, stood by incumbent state Supreme Court justices. This was in spite of Republicans, business groups and others targeting a number of judges for defeat. There was, however, an exception in Ohio where two incumbents on the state’s High Court lost. The following is a recap of the state court elections:
ROY MOORE ELECTED CHIEF JUSTICE IN ALABAMA
Roy Moore was elected Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court on November 6th. Bob Vance, a Circuit Judge from Jefferson County, was defeated by a 52% – 48% margin. Consumers and victims of corporate wrong-doing had a fighting chance for justice when Judge Moore first served as Chief Justice and that was a good thing. Judge Moore was independent and fair then and I am convinced that won’t change when he returns to the high court. Unfortunately, there are still groups who want more than fairness.
Three Florida Supreme Court Justices have won a retention bid despite an unprecedented push by the Republican Party of Florida to oust them. Justices R. Fred Lewis, Barbara Pariente and Peggy Quince each won by huge margins. As we wrote in November, the Republican Party’s executive committee opposed the three Justices, calling them extremists. It marked the first time a Florida political party has taken a position in a retention race. The Justices’ supporters include some prominent Republicans who said the GOP was endangering judicial independence and that the three had done nothing that deserved removal. I see this vote as one for a fair and impartial judicial system. Hopefully, the Tea Party wing of the Republican Party got the message from this vote.
Iowa voters retained state Supreme Court Justice David Wiggins, who faced opposition because he supported a unanimous 2009 ruling that legalized gay marriage in Iowa. Social conservatives campaigned to oust Justice Wiggins because of the ruling, following their success in removing three of his colleagues two years ago. The Iowa State Bar Association worked to keep Justice Wiggins on the bench.
Kentucky Supreme Court Justice Will T. Scott will return to the state’s Highest Court, winning a second term in a district that covers most of the state’s Appalachian region. Justice Scott received 57 percent of the vote to 42 percent for his challenger, Appeals Court Judge Janet Stumbo. The 58-year-old Stumbo was the first woman elected to the Supreme Court in 1993. She was re-elected without opposition, but was defeated by Justice Scott in her bid for a third term.
Republicans protected their 4-3 majority on the Michigan Supreme Court with the re-election of two Republican incumbents, Justices Stephen Markman and Brian Zahra. Democrat Bridget McCormack also won a seat. Ms. McCormack, who is best known for leading the Innocence Clinic at the University of Michigan law school, will be the first non-judge elected to the Supreme Court since 1986. She beat Oakland County Judge Colleen O’Brien, a Republican. The McCormack victory staved off a potential Republican sweep that would have given the GOP a 5-2 majority. Justice Marilyn Kelly, a 74-year-old Democrat who had been on the Court since 1997, couldn’t run again because of age restrictions. The Court’s conservative bloc typically votes together in civil disputes involving contracts, insurance companies, medical malpractice and auto coverage. Business groups including farmers, bankers, doctors and insurers contributed heavily to Justices Markman and Zahra and Judge O’Brien. Unions and trial lawyers donated to Ms. McCormack and the rest of the Democratic slate.
Mississippi Supreme Chief Justice Bill Waller Jr. won another term on the state’s Highest Court. Waller, Chief Justice since 2009, won an eight-year term that begins in January 2014 and runs until 2022. He was first elected to the Supreme Court in 1996. Before that, he worked as a lawyer in Jackson. The Chief Justice represents the central, or 1st District. In other races, newcomer Josiah Coleman won a seat on the Supreme Court and incumbent Supreme Court Justice Mike Randolph won re-election handily.
Incumbent state Supreme Court Justice Paul Newby defeated challenger appellate Judge Sam Ervin IV, grandson of the late Senate Watergate Committee chairman Sam Ervin. The supposedly nonpartisan race saw a flurry of advertising paid for by outside interests, most of it favoring Justice Newby. Republican organizations, business and conservative groups backed Chief Justice Newby while the state’s Democratic party and trial lawyers supported Judge Ervin.
Challengers unseated the Ohio Supreme Court’s lone Democrat and a Republican justice, meaning the Court will have new faces, but with the same political makeup. Republican Sharon Kennedy, a Butler County domestic relations judge, ended Democratic Justice Yvette McGee Brown’s bid to serve an unexpired term through 2014. Judge Kennedy will need to run again in two years to get a full, six-year term. Justice McGee Brown had been appointed in 2010 to fill a vacancy left when Maureen O’Connor became Chief Justice. The court’s new Democrat will be William O’Neill, a retired appeals court judge, who beat Republican Justice Robert Cupp. Republican Justice Terrence O’Donnell retained his seat by defeating Democratic state Sen. Mike Skindell in the third race.
No candidate garnered the necessary 50 percent of the vote in Louisiana’s Supreme Court race to fill the seat of retiring Justice Kitty Kimball. That means there will be a runoff election on December 8th between Democrat John Michael Guidry and Republican Jeff Hughes.
A longtime West Virginia Supreme Court law clerk will become its newest justice. Voters elected Republican Allen Loughry. He joins Justice Robin Davis, who won re-election to the state’s only appeals court. Justice-elect Loughry chronicled West Virginia political corruption in a recent book. That research became a major theme in his court campaign. The Loughry campaign also received public money from a pilot program created as an alternative to traditional fundraising. But the Supreme Court blocked that program from providing additional funds in a September ruling. The two-seat Supreme Court race also featured Republican Circuit Judge John Yoder and recent State Bar President Tish Chafin, a Democrat. There are five seats on the Court.
Source: Insurance Journal
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