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Bar surveys Idaho judicial candidates

Tue., May 6, 2008

BOISE – Voters typically have a difficult time finding out much about the competing candidates for the Idaho Supreme Court, but a new Idaho State Bar survey is trying to give them a comparison in advance of the May 27 election.

Getting information on candidates is “difficult to do, given that judicial candidates have to be very careful about what they say – especially a Supreme Court justice – because they may rule on cases that have to do with issues that people want to know about,” said Diane Minnick, executive director of the state bar.

The survey asked lawyers and judges across the state to rate the competing candidates for the one contested Supreme Court race in four areas: Integrity and independence, knowledge and understanding of the law, judicial temperament and demeanor, and legal ability and experience.

Justice Joel Horton, who was appointed to Idaho’s high court in September, outscored his opponent, state District Judge John Bradbury of Lewiston, in all four areas. On a four-point scale, Horton’s highest rating was 3.49 for “knowledge and understanding of the law,” and his lowest rating was 3.3 for “judicial temperament and demeanor.”

Bradbury’s highest rating was 2.59 for “integrity and independence,” and his lowest rating was 2.36 for “judicial temperament and demeanor.”

Horton said, “I was obviously gratified by the results from the folks that know us best.”

While the majority of the results came from the 4th Judicial District – the Boise area, where Horton is from – Horton outscored Bradbury in every judicial district, including the 2nd District, where Bradbury presides as a district judge. Of the survey’s 473 respondents, 203 said they did not know Bradbury, while 55 weren’t familiar with Horton.

Bradbury was campaigning in North Idaho on Monday and couldn’t be reached for comment, but he said on his campaign Web site that he’s running on a judicial reform platform.

“Our constitution requires the election of judges,” Bradbury said. “Yet early, planned retirements have permitted the political appointment of 44 out of 50 district and appellate judges.” He called for a prohibition on appointed judges succeeding themselves, which is what Horton is running for the opportunity to do.

Horton said he’s not advocating any change in the judicial election process.

“When I took this appointment, I knew that it’d be subject to the potential for a contested race,” he said. “The desirability of electing judges, that’s a given, that’s provided for by the constitution. … The focus really ought to be on the respective merits of the candidates.”

The Idaho State Bar voted in 2003 to conduct the surveys to try to give voters more to go on. Surveys were conducted two years ago for two contested district judge races, but this is the first time they’ve been done for a contested Supreme Court race.

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