Idaho’s high court decries campaign claims
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.”