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In the wake of The New York Times Sunday October 1, 2006 front page story Campaign Cash Mirrors a High Court's Rulings, reprinted in The Courier-Journal Judicial Campaign Ethics Questioned, it's time to talk about Citizens For Better Judges. Non-members may subscribe to its principles, make contributions to it, and refuse to contribute directly to any judicial campaign. CBJ makes endorsements in Jefferson County, Kentucky judicial races and publicizes its endorsements.
What is Citizens For Better Judges?
"Citizens For Better Judges was organized in January, 1983, in an effort to maintain and improve the quality of the judiciary by promoting the election of only the most highly qualified judicial candidates. It consists of a 27-member Steering Committee made up of lawyers who are all involved in litigation practice but concentrate in different fields of law, and a Citizens Review Board consisting of a cross-section of community-minded citizens with diverse occupations and backgrounds. Additionally, the organization has an Advisory Board made up of the past chairs of Citizens For Better Judges.
Each candidate for judicial office is personally interviewed by the Steering Committee. After the interviews have been completed, the Steering Committee members consider the information obtained during the interviews and share their personal knowledge of the candidates. Lay members of the Citizens Review Board are present to monitor the interviews and the integrity of the endorsement process. The Citizens Review Board must approve the endorsements recommended by the Steering Committee."
The CBJ website contains its history, a list of its current members and officers, and its endorsements in the current local judicial races.
Whether an individual agrees that CBJ endorsed the best candidate is a given race is far less important than maintaining respect for the judiciary. So long as states insist on electing judges, studies showing that attorneys and litigants who contribute to candidates are trying to "buy a vote" in a case, and worse that a high percentage of judicial rulings favor those contributors, make change required. Moreover, how can funding campaigns where the dollars go to advertising inform the electorate? Those contributions are better spent publicizing informed endorsements to a population who has little knowledge of a candidate's qualifications.
CBJ members serve three years then rotate off. I have served for many years, but this is my "off year." Nevertheless CBJ will be the only recipient of my campaign contribution. You can join me by sending your check to CBJ c/o Susan Phillips, treasurer, 716 W. Main Street, Louisville, KY 40202.

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