Legal Thriller Author Bashes Judicial Elections, to Chagrin of Newspaper

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An editorial writer at the Wall Street Journal is taking legal thriller writer John Grisham to task for supporting merit selection of judges over judicial elections.

Grisham backs merit selection of judges, as do retired U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor and the American Bar Association (PDF). The method, used in some form by at least 20 states, is intended to keep politics out of the election process, according to the newspaper editorial.

But the newspaper asserts that some merit selection commissions that make judicial recommendations are being co-opted by trial lawyers. “And that means lawyers pick the judges before whom their cases will appear—a conflict apparently lost on Mr. Grisham, a former trial lawyer himself,” the column says.

The column cites a 2007 study that found elected judges “are overall less corrupt than those who win their robes through other methods of selection. Direct election may raise concerns about campaign contributions and the appearance of influence, but it also has the virtue of accountability to the electorate.”

Grisham’s latest book, The Appeal, is about a chemical company CEO trying to influence a judge through the political election process. Grisham has said a West Virginia case involving a dispute between two coal companies helped inspire the book. Two state supreme court justices in the West Virginia case have recused themselves. One vacationed with the CEO of one of the litigant companies, and another criticized the company’s $3 million in campaign contributions to a third supreme court justice.

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