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Judge Making Court Appointments Through Cronyism/Favortism

#1
My legal career has focused on court appointment/public service law, and I live in a rural area. There had been about ten attorneys on the court appointment list for appointments in social service cases and the prior Judge had utilized a roster system. The Judge did not make the appointments, the clerk did. A new Judge was elected in 2016. Immediately after she was elected, she began making all of the court appointments herself and did not utilize a clerk. She appoints all of the parents' attorneys and the attorneys for the children. She also makes the rulings and signs the fee documents. She controls everything administratively, there are no checks and balances.

Then, she cut the court appointment list in half and eliminated all of the older more established attorneys with more experience including myself. The attorneys she is giving appointments to are younger/friends or a couple she has a close personal relationship with. I have lost $10,000.00 dollars in income from this and that is not easily recouped in a small rural community with an abundance of lawyers. I am self-employed and work out of home so I have been impoverished by this.

At first I have tried talking to her, then I wrote the Supreme Court trying to amend the Family Court Rules statewide to a roster system. I have contacted the EEOC under the age discrimination laws, but we are state contractors so they do not apply. I have tried to internally report within the state for the cronyism/favoritism channeling of state funds, but was directed to the Judicial Conduct Commission. There is a canon that states that there should not be favoritism in appointments without merit. Well, she removed all of the more qualified experienced attorneys. The Judicial Conduct Commission sent me a letter stating that they will take no action on my complaint.

I am at a loss as to where to go next. I feel that as an officer of the court that this is not fair and honest in the system. I have taken the state GAL training and have practiced in that area over ten years. Politics like this have no place in a court room. That is just my opinion. I am not trying to exclude the other attorneys just trying to maintain my place in the system.

Has anyone else experience anything like this? How have you handled it? Any comments or suggestions are greatly appreciated.
 


quincy

Senior Member
#2
My legal career has focused on court appointment/public service law, and I live in a rural area. There had been about ten attorneys on the court appointment list for appointments in social service cases and the prior Judge had utilized a roster system. The Judge did not make the appointments, the clerk did. A new Judge was elected in 2016. Immediately after she was elected, she began making all of the court appointments herself and did not utilize a clerk. She appoints all of the parents' attorneys and the attorneys for the children. She also makes the rulings and signs the fee documents. She controls everything administratively, there are no checks and balances.

Then, she cut the court appointment list in half and eliminated all of the older more established attorneys with more experience including myself. The attorneys she is giving appointments to are younger/friends or a couple she has a close personal relationship with. I have lost $10,000.00 dollars in income from this and that is not easily recouped in a small rural community with an abundance of lawyers. I am self-employed and work out of home so I have been impoverished by this.

At first I have tried talking to her, then I wrote the Supreme Court trying to amend the Family Court Rules statewide to a roster system. I have contacted the EEOC under the age discrimination laws, but we are state contractors so they do not apply. I have tried to internally report within the state for the cronyism/favoritism channeling of state funds, but was directed to the Judicial Conduct Commission. There is a canon that states that there should not be favoritism in appointments without merit. Well, she removed all of the more qualified experienced attorneys. The Judicial Conduct Commission sent me a letter stating that they will take no action on my complaint.

I am at a loss as to where to go next. I feel that as an officer of the court that this is not fair and honest in the system. I have taken the state GAL training and have practiced in that area over ten years. Politics like this have no place in a court room. That is just my opinion. I am not trying to exclude the other attorneys just trying to maintain my place in the system.

Has anyone else experience anything like this? How have you handled it? Any comments or suggestions are greatly appreciated.
What is the name of your state?
 
#6
There was a study completed by the Michigan Indigent Defense Commission that found, despite claims of a balanced rotation system in the courts, the assignment of public defenders was often based on favoritism.

Here is a link to the research brief with access to the final report:
http://michiganidc.gov/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/Balance-of-Assignment-Final.pdf

It is an informative read.
Thank you. I will be reading it. I was not aware of the study and that will provide insight. This Judge is not even using a roster system, she is appointing the remaining attorneys that she did not slash and burn, as she chooses.
 

quincy

Senior Member
#7
Thank you for providing your state name, Dateline.

The study is worth reading. I think the problem with the indigent service appointments is a nationwide problem. What you are experiencing in your area of Kentucky certainly appears to be what has been experienced in Michigan, at any rate.

The ABA believes that the assignment of public defenders should be independent of state (judicial or political) influence. To eliminate (real or perceived) bias, the attorneys who are assigned to represent indigent clients are best assigned on a random, rotating basis.

Good luck.
 

ALawyer

Senior Member
#8
When it comes to appointing special counsel, guardians, and others, in most states judges have significant discretion and power. While as Lord Acton wrote in 1887, "Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely" absent your ability to prove corruption (such as through bribes or kickbacks), or laws mandating a specific procedure that the judge must apply when taking appointments you're a victim of what is in essence a patronage-based "spoils system," enabling the judge to show favoritism, and reward those she chooses, and give preferential treatment to those s/he and/or the political or civic or business interests that helped get her elected or appointed favors.

I have no doubt that the judge would be able to articulate facially acceptable (and possibly commendable) explanations for her actions in reducing the size of the panel (e.g. to make each panel member more accountable, to encourage specialization, to obtain greater efficiency or professionalism, to reduce costs, etc.) and to have the panel primarily consist of less well established, younger yet otherwise qualified attorneys (e.g. to help redress past patterns of exclusion of discrimination).
 
#9
As someone who has great familiarity with small town politics, I have two possible suggestions you won't like, and one that might work. As it is, you've got two choices. One is move to another place. Probably not feasible. Another is to suck up to this judge, and see if you can get some cases by being willing to kowtow. Not a fun idea, probably wouldn't work at this point, and there's also the chance she'll be voted out later. As a wise old country politician once said, "You're on top some of the time, but you lose them just like you win then and sometimes you'll be on the bottom too."

My really serious suggestion is this. Does your local area have an "investigative reporter" for one of the local news channels? In most areas there's one of those muckraking reporters who, if you call and report an unfair situation, or a questionable situation, especially one which involves local politics or such like, they'll be happy to investigate, sniff around, check with the authorities about what exactly is the law and how much leeway politics gives these elected officials. A discrete call to someone like this might get it on the local news. And questions might be asked that would force some action, or make the oversight a little more diligent.
 

quincy

Senior Member
#10
I agree that judges could probably articulate acceptable reasons for appointing counsel as they do, but it is unfortunate that many judges will appoint only those attorneys who reduce the judge's workload by not filing motions and who won't take cases to trial. It is the defendant who loses with this type of system.

Media attention would not hurt. :)
 
#11
Thanks everyone for your thoughtful replies. I have noticed that one of the chosen attorneys that seems to get a substantial number of cases does not speak up in court on behalf of her clients. The Judge goes directly to the clients and talks to them, not the attorneys.

The media choice has crossed my mind recently, too. I have not spoke to our local bar president, but that is also something I am considering. That is discussing the procedure currently in place and how is affecting some members of the bar.

I have done this since my original posting. They are doing a review of the Family Court Rules, and I have drafted and submitted a rule of the implementation of a roster system statewide. I did that on Friday. I discussed the backstory with the liaison.
 

quincy

Senior Member
#12
You have been busy. :)

Actual changes can be a long time coming (as we've discovered in Michigan), but I hope your efforts will eventually be rewarded.

Good luck.
 
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