April 28, 2010 in Idaho

Idaho’s high court decries campaign claims

By The Spokesman-Review

Bradbury’s disputed claims

• Lewiston Judge John Bradbury, an advocate of election of judges, narrowly lost an Idaho Supreme Court election two years ago to Justice Joel Horton; he maintains that judges purposely quit before the end of their terms to allow their successors to be appointed, rather than chosen in an open election without an incumbent. Justice Jim Jones disputed that and said judges leave office for many reasons, and that the Supreme Court can’t control when or why a judge quits.

• Bradbury also decried the lack of women on Idaho’s courts; Idaho has no women among its five Supreme Court justices, one on its four-member Court of Appeals, six among its 42 district judges and 10 among its 87 magistrate judges. When Horton was appointed in 2007 to the post formerly held by Justice Linda Copple-Trout, the Idaho Judicial Council recommended four finalists to Gov. Butch Otter, two of whom were female judges. But Otter selected Horton. Jones said that’s not the court’s doing, and noted that in 2008, it appointed a recruitment and retention committee to work on attracting more quality applicants for judgeships including women and minorities.

• Bradbury says in campaign materials that the “Supreme Court refused to consider night court so you wouldn’t have to decide between a day’s pay and your day in court,” and asks, “Does it care about your conveniences or the judge’s?” Bradbury said he asked the Supreme Court to institute night courts two years ago, when he challenged Horton. But Jones also said any district judge – including Bradbury – could set up a night court and doesn’t need the Supreme Court’s permission. Justice Roger Burdick said he tried one for six months when he was a judge in Jerome County in the early 1990s, but it didn’t catch on. “You don’t need our OK to try a night court, you need the county commissioners’ OK in terms of the money and the clerks and the security and the support staff,” Burdick said.

• An ad Bradbury placed in weekly newspapers asked, “Does the Idaho judiciary feather its own nest?” and portrayed the state’s senior judge program as providing “one judge for the price of two.” The program encourages retired judges to hear cases as a cost-saving move, compared to adding more judges. Bradbury said he thought incentives for retired judges to work part-time hearing cases resulted in the state paying retirees more and still having to replace them. But state courts administrative director Patti Tobias said state statute prevents any retired judge from being paid more than 75 percent of the current judicial salary.

Retired judges receive a percentage of their salary based on both age and years of service at retirement; a judge who retires at age 65 after four years service would receive 20 percent of salary as retirement, while one who served 10 years and retires at age 60 receives 50 percent of salary. Judges who’ve served 20 years can retire at any age. Only 10 retired judges are enrolled in the state’s senior judge incentive program, which grants small boosts to their retirement – but not above the 75 percent mark – if they serve uncompensated as senior judges at least 35 days a year for five years. Other senior judges are paid a fee equal to 85 percent of an active judge’s daily pay for the days they hear cases; their retirement doesn’t change.

BOISE – The contested race for an Idaho Supreme Court seat has heated up, with the court itself now issuing statements disputing claims from the challenger, Lewiston Judge John Bradbury.

The court says it’s part of a protocol adopted last fall for the court to set straight any false claims about the system; Bradbury says they’re after him, while his opponent says he’s deceiving Idahoans about how the courts work.

“I think he is using the same points that he made in the last election,” said Justice Roger Burdick, whom Bradbury is challenging in the May 25 election. “They are populist points that the Supreme Court either isn’t involved in, or the Legislature has made certain decisions as to. They’re very popular in terms of the political jingoism involved, but as concerns whether or not they’re fair representations of the court system, I’d have to take exception.”

It wasn’t Burdick who issued the latest statement - it was Justice Jim Jones, who also is seeking re-election but is unopposed.

Jones said, “It’s fine to say we made a bum decision here or there - hey, that’s fair game.” But he said Bradbury, in ads and campaign brochures, has falsely charged Idaho’s court system with evading elections; discriminating against female judicial candidates; overpaying senior judges; and impeding the establishment of night courts.

“A candidate for judicial office may put forth whatever proposals he may wish to improve the judicial system, but has no right to make unfounded claims that tarnish the courts,” Jones declared in a statement distributed by the court this week under the court’s new protocol.

It was the third statement sent out under the protocol; one last week, from three former justices, outlined what judicial candidates can and can’t discuss in election campaigns (Bradbury termed that one “benign”), while an earlier one, from former Chief Justices Linda Copple-Trout and Gerald Schroeder, disputed statements made by Bradbury in a Lewiston newspaper about their retirement pay, which the statement termed “simply wrong.” It also disputed other allegations Bradbury made in the article.

“Frankly, I come out of the hills of north-central Idaho with some new ideas and criticize the status quo - they hunker like a bunch of musk ox in an arctic storm,” Bradbury said. “They’ve never had to answer anything until I ran and started questioning the system.”

He said he thought the court had just adopted the new protocol after he declared his candidacy this spring, but Patti Tobias, state courts administrative director, said it was adopted in November of 2009 after being recommended by the Administrative Conference, which consists of the state’s administrative judges and court administrators. “It’s called a ‘protocol for communications regarding unwarranted or unfair attacks on the judicial system,’” she said. “We ask ourselves, ‘Does it attack the court system, as opposed to a particular judicial candidate?’”

Tobias said under the protocol, she coordinates with the chief justice on the responses.

Still, the statement from Copple-Trout and Schroeder points specifically at Bradbury, noting “a distressing pattern of misrepresentation on the part of Bradbury against the court and against individual members of the judiciary,” saying, “He has, unfortunately, conducted himself in this manner in the past and has not always been held to account for his statements and inaccuracies.”

The most recent statement from Jones doesn’t dispute other charges Bradbury makes in the same brochure and ads, including criticism of the court’s handling of a major school facilities lawsuit; secrecy in the handling of complaints about judges; and the lack of current justices from northern or eastern Idaho.

Bradbury said he stands by his claims. “I’m happy to defend them,” he said. “I guess the good thing is they’re talking about my issues and that’s what I want them to do - that’s where I want the discussion to be. And boy, am I ever glad they’re doing it, because that’s why I like elections and that’s why they don’t like ‘em.”

Burdick, a former prosecutor, public defender, magistrate judge and district judge, said Idaho’s court system relies on committees of judges and other affected parties to recommend changes in its processes, and Bradbury’s never asked to join any of those committees.

“He has indicated evidently, by his conduct, he doesn’t wish to solve any of these problems, just talk about them,” Burdick said. “I just go out and I tell people, ‘Here’s what the Idaho judiciary is really about, it’s a very good system and I support it. I support your local judges, I support your local trial court administrators.’ It’s that simple.”

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