As a Jacksonville Criminal Attorney, I am familiar with the Duval County judicial system. I have practiced in front of most of the Jacksonville county (misdemeanor) and circuit (felony and juvenile) court judges. As a Jacksonville resident and registered voter, I am familiar with the election of Duval County judges. In Jacksonville, the public elects its judges. I assumed that other states elected their state judges as well. However, this assumption was incorrect.
Today, I was taking a criminal certified legal education course in South Carolina. I was the only Jacksonville Criminal Attorney in the room. I learned that South Carolina residents do not elect thier judges. Instead, the judges are appointed by a committee. The committee investigates the judicial candiates and chooses three candidates. Then, one canditate is appointed from the three people.
South Carolina’s judicial appointment process may be more beneficial to criminal defendants. It is no surprise that Jacksonville criminal defendants are not the most respected members of society. Many people do not respect a criminal defendant’s rights they way that they should or in the manner that the constitution demands. Indeed, when judges run for office, they take a stance that they are “tough on crime.” While crimes should be properly punished, judges should make decisions based upon the evidence presened and argument rendered by counsel. They should not be influenced by the public’s perception that a judge should be “tougher” on crime. Perhaps, if we did not publically elected judges, we would not have the outside influence of public perception in the criminal courtroom.
On the other hand, I would question the political motivation behind the appointment process. Would a judge make legal decisions based upon the ideals of the appointment committee? While most judges are not persuaded by the pressures of an election or an appointment, it may be a factor in some cases and with some judges.