The Curious Way the Media is Covering Georgia Judicial Run-Offs

As I mentioned in a previous post, there are two run-offs for Georgia appellate seats — one for the Georgia Court of Appeals and one for the Supreme Court of Georgia. According to the Atlanta Law Blog, the Blog for the Fulton Daily Report, there are many judicial seats that will be decided by a run-off. Of course, the Daily Report’s audience consists of the Georgia legal community, and not much explanation is necessary there for what the courts do or what’s at stake in those elections. The readership knows the offices and the players involved.

The more interesting phenomenon is the way the media is covering Georgia Judicial Run-Offs. The Newnan Times Herald ran an editorial suggesting that “More Judges” should be selected by appointment. The editorial does not exactly define which ones should be appointed versus elected. But the article suggests that the Run-off is essentially a nuisance and that most voters know neither the candidates nor the issues

While the possibility of a runoff in the Georgia governor’s race did not materialize, every polling place in our state will have to be open on Nov. 30 for two judicial races because no candidate received a majority of the vote a race for the Georgia Supreme Court and another race for an open seat on the Georgia Court of Appeals. … It will costs our state hundreds of thousands of dollars to hold this election in which few voters will participate. This raises another question: Should these judgeships be appointee positions instead of elective positions?

There are many reasons why judges should be appointed instead of elected. In fact I wrote about some of those reasons in previous post. But I’ve never considered that it’s just too darned expensive to have an election or that it is just plain annoying that such an election will require a run-off.

I suppose that most voters don’t care about judicial offices, particularly appellate courts, because most have never had a case before any of those officers. Of course, as all of my clients can attest, those offices have a way of becoming important when your brother, spouse, or loved one has a case before an appellate court. Yet, many of these officers will hold peoples lives in their hands.

An editorial introducing the candidates and discussing what our appellate courts do might have been an interesting angle instead of the one the editorialist chose.

If the public doesn’t know the issues at stake in the election, to what extent does the Fourth Estate bear some of that blame? According to Justice Nahmias, who is in a run-off, quite a bit. He told an Associated Press reporter

We would have liked to get 30,000 more votes to end it yesterday,” he said. “But it’s a three-candidate nonpartisan race toward the end of a very busy and long ballot, and our race got virtually no media attention. Our hope is that the voters will have a very clear choice after they learn about my experience.”

The ones who show up for the run-off will know about the candidates, we would presume. They may actually be related to the candidates. The other media coverage I read about this Run-off either reports the fact that there will be a run-off, the fact that turnout will be low, or expresses what a nuisance this election is.

The real problem with elections is the possibility that special interests will use judicial seats to advance a particular political agenda, an agenda that threatens the notion of impartiality. I heard an episode of NPR’s On Point today that discussed these possibilities. It’s also an issue that judges call upon attorneys to donate money to political campaigns. Of course, attorneys are a natural constituency, but the whole business is a little strange, particularly when you will end up before that judge eventually or the other guy if you “bet on the wrong horse.”

The appointment system is little better in Georgia. I have appeared before the Judicial Nominating Committe in Georgia to speak on candidates the Georgia Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers had vetted. I felt like the process was a rubber stamp and that my voice was pretty much like the teacher on Peanuts. The appointment system feels even more political when you’re inside it, particularly in a State like Georgia that seems like it will be a one party state practically forever.

I just wish so much of the media would inform rather than whine about what a bother these elections are. Too much is at stake to continue the current trend

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