Recently an altercation occurred outside the Jan Platt Library in South Tampa. Citizens were present to cast their early votes.1
The altercation occurred between Melissa Polo’s campaign consultant and Gary Dolgin’s wife. Polo and Dolgin are candidates for the same circuit judge seat in Hillsborough County.
Dolgin is reported to have stated that his wife was verbally assaulted. Polo says the exchange was about an earlier inappropriate verbal attack on her.
In a separate incident Dolgin reports that his 81-year-old mother was treated with a lack of respect by Polo standing close listening in as she spoke to voters. Polo says she was within her rights in a public space because the elder Mrs. Dolgin has been heard invoking political parties in making inappropriate insinuations. This would all be comical if it were not true.
Because judges are supposed to be impartial and dignified, the rules for running are different. Candidates do not generally talk issues, tout political parties or badmouth each other. In Florida, only trial judges are elected. Appealate judges and Supreme Court justices are appointed by the governor from a list provided by a commission; they retain their jobs by receiving a majority of yes votes in an uncompetitive election.
Despite the nastiness of some political campaigns, it has been suggested that we should keep judicial elections for the following reasons:2
First, there is no evidence that elections cause voters to view judicial institutions as less legitimate.
Second, there is no difference in the quality of judges who emerge from elections as opposed to appointments.
Lastly, unlike the merit commission process most frequently offered as an alternative –elections are at least transparent processes open to the public.
Let’s not lose sight of the fact that politics is involved in the appointment process as well. Governor Scott has come under fire for passing over qualified black candidates in favor of politically connected candidates. It has also been suggested that the Governor is biased in favor of prosecutors, and that the only way a public defender can become a judge is to get elected.3
This is why we elect judges. Those of us that work in the system accept things we cannot change. We accept the fact that politics is involved in electing and appointing judges. We also accept the fact that judges are subject to political pressure in the decisions they make. The best judges don’t yield to this pressure.
1 Carlton, Sue. “Even quiet judicial races can turn ugly.” November 4, 2016. Retrieved from: http://www.tampabay.com/news/politics/elections/carlton-even-a-judge-election-gets-ugly-say-it-aint-so/2301290
2 Bonneau, Chris W. “Why we should keep judicial elections. May 26, 2011. Retrieved from: https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/why-we-should-keep-judicial-elections/2011/05/26/AGt08HCH_story.html