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Thu., May 6, 2010, midnight

Editorial: Candor isn’t a match for incumbent’s experience

Count on it: Any political campaign involving Idaho District Court Judge John Bradbury will be livelier than the customary judicial contest. The self-styled reformer lobs grenades and names names. His attacks on Idaho Supreme Court Justice Roger Burdick, whom he wants to unseat in the May 25 election, have been so broad as to provoke a reaction from Justice Jim Jones, who is running unopposed on the same ballot.

It’s not a bad thing for a candidate to force sensitive issues into the open – something judicial candidates usually avoid. But bombast is no substitute for knowledge and legal insight, qualities that emerge through broad experience and earn respect from other professionals in the field. On that side of the scorecard, Burdick holds an insurmountable advantage.

Among Bradbury’s criticisms, he notes fairly that the Supreme Court dropped the ball in 2005 when it ruled that Idaho’s funding system for schools was unconstitutional – but then did nothing to require the state to correct it. Even former Supreme Court Justice Robert Huntley said that brought “great dishonor upon the Idaho Court.”

We also think Bradbury has a point with his complaints about the preponderance of judicial positions that are first filled by political appointment before the appointee ever has to face the voters. But, as Burdick has noted, most of the problems Bradbury has raised are better suited to legislative attention.

The fact is, Burdick has served on the Supreme Court since being appointed by then-Gov. Dirk Kempthorne in 2003. He was elected for a full term in 2004. Lest his connection to Republican Kempthorne raise concerns about partisanship, note that his campaign co-chairmen are Keith Roark and Norm Semanko, the chairmen, respectively, of the state Democratic and Republican parties. Two dozen prosecuting attorneys from around the state endorse him.

Burdick’s been in a judicial role for 28 years – as a magistrate, a state water judge and now on the Supreme Court. With the exception of the school funding case, we haven’t heard Bradbury identify any failings in Burdick’s judicial performance.

Meanwhile, a state bar survey shows that in all the categories and in every one of the state’s seven judicial districts, practicing lawyers rate Burdick high and Bradbury low. Bradbury complains that 100 Idaho lawyers, at most, know him (more evidence of his limited background and preparation), revealing political motivations. Even if that’s so, it explains only his own low marks, not the high ones given to Burdick.

We surmise that Bradbury’s outspokenness has created impressions that reach far beyond his courtroom and the limited number of lawyers who work there. Some of the negative responses are probably a reaction to his outbursts.

We have no quarrel with Bradbury’s candor, but we think Burdick’s performance on the job has been too solid to consider replacing him with an untested rival.

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