Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Justice campaigns in Blaine County

Horton stumps for judicial independence

Express Staff Writer

Justice Joel Horton

Supreme Court Justice Joel Horton has enjoyed seven months on the bench and has decided to run for another term.

"When I started out I never could have told you I'd end up as a judge, much less a justice of the Supreme Court," Horton said. "But over time as a prosecutor I realized how important it is. It is the integrity of the process and how decisions are ultimately made, not so much the particular outcome of a particular case."

Horton, 48, was appointed to the high court on Sept. 18 by Idaho Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter. He filled a vacancy left when Justice Linda Copple Trout stepped down on Aug. 31.

On May 27, voters will have the opportunity to choose between Horton and 2nd District Judge John Bradbury of Lewiston. It is a non-partisan election, and the candidates cannot talk about specific issues under consideration by the court. That can make differentiating between the candidates difficult.

Last Thursday, April 17, Horton traveled to the Wood River Valley to campaign. His trip included stops with the Hailey Rotary Club, with local officials and at a Hailey Business After Hours event.

Horton said there are issues that separate the two candidates. Chief among them, he said, is "the importance of the view on judicial independence."

"Our ultimate responsibility is to be the ultimate guarantors of individual liberties," he said.

By virtue of his appointment to the bench, Horton comes with something of a political endorsement, but that is not to say he is a partisan judge. In fact, he talked at length about judicial independence from politics.

"When we talk about the issue of judicial conservatism versus judicial activism, judicial restraint ought to be embraced," he said. "It's every bit as much of a threat to those with liberal views as to those with conservative views. Yes, I was appointed by a governor of a particular party, but I don't think I was appointed because of my particular partisan beliefs."

Horton said the Idaho Supreme Court is supremely important. He called it the "final arbiter" of what the law is and what it means.

"That power needs to be exercised responsibly or on a principled basis."

Horton was born in Nampa in 1959 and graduated from Borah High School in Boise before attending the University of Washington. He attended University of Idaho College of Law in 1985.

Horton practiced law in Lewiston for one year before marrying future Ada County Magistrate Carolyn Minder and moving to Twin Falls. He was a deputy prosecuting attorney there from 1986 to 1988. He worked as a criminal deputy with the Ada County Prosecutor for three years before becoming a deputy attorney general in 1991.

In 1994 Horton was appointed Ada County magistrate, serving as a family law judge until his appointment to the district court in 1996 by Gov. Phil Batt.

Horton said his range of interests was always beyond a niche practice. When the position in the district court opened, "I thought that looked like a real area of interest," he said.

The annual salary for each of the five Idaho Supreme Court justices is $114,900.

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