BOISE – Two candidates for the Idaho Supreme Court traded barbs and argued about the meaning of fairness for ordinary people during a televised debate Friday.
Justice Joel Horton called challenger Breck Seiniger “a representative of special interests,” prompting Seiniger to retort, “I guess the special interests we’re talking about are the average, ordinary citizens like you people watching out there, who get hurt, who have a problem with the government, who have a property dispute – that’s who I represent.”
The event, part of the “Idaho Debates” sponsored by the Idaho Press Club and the League of Women Voters, was broadcast statewide on Idaho Public Television; Idaho’s primary election is May 20. In addition to primary races for partisan offices, the election includes the final vote in the nonpartisan Supreme Court race.
Horton, who has served on the court since 2007, said the election offers “a simple choice: Should I be replaced by a personal injury lawyer who has an agenda to represent the folks that he’s just told you about, small, ordinary people? The reality is that as justices of the Idaho Supreme Court, we don’t advocate or represent any particular interest. We represent justice.”
Seiniger said if elected, he would “broaden the perspective of the court, which has been for the last 25 years, in terms of judicial appointments, limited to sitting judges and lawyers from large Boise law firms.” He’s been a lawyer in private practice for 35 years. “I’ve handled almost every kind of case,” he said.
The two agreed on some issues: Both said this year’s legislation to begin reforming Idaho’s public defender system was an important first step but doesn’t finish the job. Both spoke highly of the “justice reinvestment” project, in which all three branches of Idaho’s state government are working to reform a system that now sees nonviolent offenders spending twice as long behind bars as they do in other states.
Horton said the greatest challenges facing Idaho’s courts are resources and felony sentencing practices; he’s chairing a panel on sentencing.
Seiniger said he sees the greatest challenge as the “layer upon layer of pretrial procedures” that litigants including those in medical malpractice cases must face before getting to a jury trial.