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Better Courts steps into court plan legal challenge

Kelly Wiese//December 31, 2009//

Better Courts steps into court plan legal challenge

Kelly Wiese//December 31, 2009//

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It turns out those opposed to changing judicial selection aren’t the only ones who can tap well-known legal names in Missouri.

James Harris leads an organization that wants to change the way Missouri chooses its judges. But supporters of the current system have filed legal challenges to the state-approved ballot summaries, so they’re tied up in court.

Harris today said he has asked to intervene in the case challenging the wording of a plan to move to direct elections for all Missouri judges.

His attorneys on the issue are Todd Graves, a former federal prosecutor who now practices at Graves, Bartle, Marcus & Garrett in Kansas City, and Jared Craighead. Craighead is a former executive director of the Missouri Republican Party and now works at Gibbs, Pool and Turner in Jefferson City.

Among attorneys working on the other side of the case are former state Supreme Court Judges Ann Covington and Ronnie White.

Craighead says he supports Harris’s proposal to get rid of the Nonpartisan Court Plan. But Graves said he took the case because his firm has litigation experience on ballot measures and has previously represented some of the people involved. He is not a member of the Harris group, Better Courts for Missouri, and declined to say whether he favors the ballot measure or whom he has represented before.

Harris has no problem with the secretary of state’s summary but hopes that by stepping into the case he can urge the court and parties to move quickly so there’s time to make the May deadline to submit voters’ signatures for next year’s November election.

The legal challenges basically prevent Harris’s group from collecting voters’ signatures, because if a court rules the wording must change, any signatures gathered under the old summary wouldn’t count.

Harris also said his focus is on putting direct election of judges before voters. He also filed a ballot measure to move to a federal model of appointment by the governor, and lawmakers have filed legislation in the House that would make less dramatic changes to the current system. A Senate proposal would also move to a federal approach.

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