Saturday, May 29, 2010

Judicial nominees list bill is back before R.I. General Assembly

Sunday, May 30, 2010

By Katie Mulvaney

Journal Staff Writer

PROVIDENCE — A bill that would let the governor choose judicial nominees from lists of finalists generated over the past five years is back again and working its way through the General Assembly.

The measure, sponsored by Sen. Leo R. Blais, R-Coventry, won the Senate’s backing last week and now awaits House Judiciary Committee review. If passed, it would extend to June 30, 2011, the governor’s ability to pick potential judges from lists created as far back as 2005.

First passed in 2007, the legislation was proposed this session at Governor Carcieri’s request as a way to save judicial candidates the inconvenience of going through the selection process before the Judicial Nominating Commission more than once.

“Simply because they are not chosen [the first time] does not diminish their qualifications,” said Amy Kempe, the governor’s spokeswoman. The pool of candidates has already been vetted as well-qualified, she said.

The bill, however, is perennially opposed by the government watchdog group Common Cause Rhode Island, which charges that it undermines core concepts of the judicial merit selection by reducing the transparency of the process. Allowing the governor to reach back and choose nominees from the lists created near the start of his term invites mischief and increases the politics involved, according to John Marion, Common Cause executive director.

Further, he said, it might violate the state Constitution, which specifies the governor should choose from “a list.” “This allows the governor to pick from multiple lists,” he said.

Lawyers interested in filling an open seat on the state bench must submit a lengthy application to the Judicial Nominating Commission. Members select which applicants to interview and hold a public hearing in which friends, family and colleagues speak to a candidate’s qualifications. The commission then forwards a list of three to five finalists to the governor.

Before the bill’s enactment, the governor had to select from only the list created by the Judicial Nominating Commission for a given position.

A hearing date before the House Judiciary Committee has not been set. A House version was held for further study last month. There are three Superior Court vacancies and two openings in District Court.

1 comment: