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For the week of May 1 - 7, 2002

  Opinion Columns

Campaign $$$ ‘silence’ Idaho judge

Commentary by PAT MURPHY

Practitioners of the scratch-my-back-I’ll-scratch-yours politics are apt to wink knowingly when quoting the simplest maxim of insider political loyalty.

"You dance with the one who brung you'' — to wit: play footsie with those who put you in office.

So, it’s almost certain that some of those behind the Term Limits Campaign Fund in 2000 who raised $52,000 to defeat Idaho Supreme Court Justice Cathy Silak expect something in return from her triumphant opponent, now-Justice Daniel Eismann, even if he made no such promise.

But, having been indirectly tainted by the appearance of tit-for-tat because of media reports about the fund to defeat Justice Silak, Justice Eismann has wisely, if not regrettably, announced he won’t take part in the term limits case to be heard by the high court Thursday.

Justice Eismann has been silenced and a vote removed from the court’s decision, one way or another, by the stench of money in an election of a jurist.

What more proof do voters and politicians in this state need that campaign money and the courts simply are a toxic, poisonous mixture?

Idaho will never reach political maturity until it abandons the injudicious system of electing judges, and instead adopts an appointive system that brings to the bench the very best in legal minds and insulates them from the squalid necessity of passing the hat for campaign funds for re-election.

Supporters of electing judges claim deceitfully that appointing judges would rob voters of their democratic right.


Holier-than-thou boosters of electing judges have no such lofty motives — they’re largely well-heeled lobbies that want to use campaign donations in hopes of influencing judges and prevail in court.

The defeated Justice Silak was a fine jurist, unimpeachably honest and ethical with a record of judicial independence. But her insistence on independence of the court offended special interests who failed to get their way, and who vindictively turned out in force to defeat her at the polls.

Even her successor, untouchable by campaign groups as he might be, is too embarrassed by even the remotest insinuations to deliberate with other members of the high court on the term limits case because of the questions raised by money.

Enlightened states long ago adopted systems by which judges are initially appointed from a list prepared by bipartisan panels. Then, they stand for "retention" by popular vote at the end of their terms, either retained or rejected by voters.

The beauty of those systems is that judges are prohibited from raising or accepting a dime of campaign money, thus precluding lawyers who practice before them or special interest groups in search of favors from creating what amounts to IOUs from a judge.

Surely there’s also a lesson in the dozens of members of Congress in recent years who’ve decided not to seek re-election, citing their discomfort in spending almost every day appealing for funds for the next campaign, then facing major donors who expect favors when votes on legislation are called.

As the American public’s trust in institutions continues to be betrayed, heroic efforts must be made to guarantee that courts on which a civil and orderly society is so dependent don’t sink into the cesspool of deceit, partisanship and back scratching that creates new headlines of shame everyday.


The Idaho Mountain Express is distributed free to residents and guests throughout the Sun Valley, Idaho resort area community. Subscribers to the Idaho Mountain Express will read these stories and others in this week's issue.