Hon. Glenn A. Norton
BAMSL President, 2020-21
Of Counsel, Blitz, Bardgett & Deutsch, L.C.
Mediator, Special Master, Alaris
Originally published in the October 2020 issue of the St. Louis Lawyer magazine. View in the archives.
As I began writing this column, I heard the heartbreaking news that we have lost one of the most committed and effective champions for fairness and equality in our nation’s history, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. We cannot forget—or let those who follow us in this profession forget—the impact this brilliant jurist had on the legal community and the changes that she made happen. Those changes were long overdue. As BAMSL Treasurer Kevin Gunn tweeted, "The legal community is richer, more diverse and more thoughtful today because she decided she wasn't going to accept the status quo." Thank you, Notorious RBG. Rest in peace.
The General Election is rapidly approaching on Nov. 3, 2020. We all know about the races that are dominating space on television, radio and social media. I have used my platform as BAMSL President to constantly remind members about the importance of this election. But there are other boxes that we must check to protect our system of justice and the independence of the judges who protect the rights of everyone. We are living in a time when even a small, angry and often misinformed group of citizens can mount a campaign on social media that seems to have many supporters when it simply does not.
The fact that our judges appear on the ballot is a surprise to many voters. Often, voters do not take the time to find out about the judges who are up for retention. Many voters are honest, and admit that, "I didn't know any of them, so I just skipped that part of the ballot." Or, even worse, "I didn't know any of them, so I just voted 'no.'"
I have spent decades telling friends, family and community groups that it is a good thing when you do not recognize a judge's name. The judge should never be the story. If you do not hear a judge's name, he or she is probably doing a good job. A well-officiated sporting event is one where you never notice the referee. If you like, feel free to use this analogy when spreading the word to support all of the judges on the ballot.
The fact is, it is important for our electorate to be informed about the judicial election process and the judges that they might find themselves appearing in front of someday. Even if they never face a judge, they should care that their judiciary is administering the law fairly and equitably. As members of the legal profession, it is our duty to educate and inform so that we can continue to ensure the fair administration of the law.
Missouri voters passed the Nonpartisan Selection of Judges Court Plan in November 1940. More than 30 states have adopted the plan in some form to select their judges based on merit instead of political connections or fundraising abilities. The Missouri Bar's Web site provides an excellent discussion of The Plan at www.yourmissourijudges.org.
In the Missouri judicial selection process, judges who serve under this plan have been nominated by a judicial commission and then selected by the governor. At the first General Election after they have served at least 12 months on the bench, nonpartisan judges must go before the voters in a retention election. Thereafter, Appellate Judges are on the ballot again every 12 years, Circuit Judges every six years and Associate Circuit Judges every four years. Voters are asked whether or not each of these judges should be retained. To be retained, each judge must receive a majority vote.
Reviews by the Judicial Performance Review Committee for each judge up for retention for the Nov. 3, 2020, election are available at www.yourmissourijudges.org. I encourage you to refer friends and family to this site before the November election to read about each judge.
As members of BAMSL, it is our responsibility to continue to defend the judicial branch and the integrity of our selection process. We cannot become complacent or take anything for granted. If our judges are under attack, our entire justice system is under attack. We must continue working to educate the electorate to ensure public trust in the judiciary remains high. Our judges deserve that trust.
Please share this information with your family, friends and colleagues before Nov. 3. And do not forget to vote "yes" to retain all of our judges.