May 4, 2010 in Idaho

Idaho high court rivals spar in fiery debate

By The Spokesman-Review
Betsy Russell photo

2nd District Judge John Bradbury, left, debates Idaho Supreme Court Justice Roger Burdick, right, in a debate broadcast live on Tuesday night on Idaho Public Television. Bradbury is challenging Burdick’s bid for re-election to the court in Idaho’s May 25 election.
(Full-size photo)

You can watch the 30-minute debate online at

BOISE - The same day that an Idaho State Bar survey of lawyers across the state rated incumbent Idaho Supreme Court Justice Roger Burdick much more highly than 2nd District Judge John Bradbury - who’s challenging Burdick in the May 25 election - the two faced off in a debate broadcast live statewide, in which Bradbury decried the bar survey as “a disgrace” and “dishonest.”

He noted that 614 lawyers around the state ranked candidates on such measures as knowledge and understanding of the law and judicial temperament and demeanor, but said as a judge in three “very rural counties,” he knows only about 100 lawyers. The survey specifies that those who don’t know the judge shouldn’t answer, he said.

“What they’re trying to do is disqualify me as a candidate without knowing me, and it’s a disgrace,” Bradbury declared. “It shames them, and it demeans the profession.”

However, about 250 of the 614 respondents declined to rate Bradbury because they said they weren’t knowledgeable about him. Only about 100 said they didn’t know Burdick well enough to rate him.

Burdick, a former public defender, county prosecutor, magistrate judge, and district judge before his appointment to the high court, said, “I know a lot of lawyers, they practice before me. I sincerely appreciate the vote of confidence.”

But he added, “Ever since I became a magistrate in Jerome, I have said the citizens are our clients, not the lawyers.”

The two candidates clashed repeatedly during the 30-minute debate sponsored by the Idaho Press Club and the League of Women Voters and broadcast live on Idaho Public Television.

At one point, Burdick disputed Bradbury’s statement that the state’s school facilities lawsuit ended when lawyers were called to a meeting in the Supreme Court’s basement and told “it’s over,” without any written order or decision - and despite an earlier ruling that the state’s school funding system is unconstitutional. “It is abject malarkey and nonsense,” Burdick said, adding that the basement meeting was a scheduling conference on another, related case. “I’m not going to say it’s a lie, but it’s darn close to it,” Burdick said.

Bradbury responded, “If you want to know what happened in the basement of the Supreme Court, talk to the players who were there.” His description matches that given at the time by former Idaho Supreme Court Justice Robert Huntley, attorney for a group of school districts that sued over the the state’s system for funding school construction, and Deputy Attorney General Michael Gilmore.

Burdick said, “The Idaho state Legislature are the people who in fact fund the schools. The Supreme Court of Idaho cannot. It is up to the Legislature. The parties who brought this lawsuit in the first case could bring this lawsuit again tomorrow if they wish - this case is not over. We indicated we retained jurisdiction.”

Bradbury called the school lawsuit’s outcome “the darkest day in the history of the Supreme Court in Idaho,” and said, “I agree, how taxes are raised is a political question.” But he said the court should have followed through in the case by ensuring that the system, in fact, was fixed by the Legislature. “The politicians didn’t like it and the Supreme Court blinked,” Bradbury said.

The debate, the first of a series this year dubbed the “Idaho Debates,” was held before a live audience in the state Capitol Auditorium. The full 30-minute debate can be viewed online at

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