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Critics of Nonpartisan Court Plan won’t campaign for amendment

Supporters of a proposed change to the Nonpartisan Court Plan announced Tuesday that they will not even try to persuade voters to pass it.

In an emailed statement, Rich Chrismer, a spokesman for Missourians for Better Courts, the campaign committee favoring Amendment 3, said that while the group still hopes voters approve the measure on Nov. 6, there will be no “traditional campaign” on its behalf.

The announcement comes just two weeks after an appeals court upheld the description of the proposed change that will appear on the ballot. Chrismer said the ballot summary is “hopelessly biased” and that the amendment is unlikely to win as a result.

“Amendment 3 supporters today said they will instead preserve their resources for meaningful judicial reform and begin discussions about alternative options for strengthening the judicial branch and changing the way judges are selected in Missouri,” the press release said.

In an interview, Chrismer said those “alternative options” would include a proposal for all judges in Missouri to be directly elected.

Missourians for Fair and Impartial Courts Committee, a campaign committee backed by The Missouri Bar that opposes the amendment, said it will continue to urge voters to reject the amendment.

“We will continue to educate Missouri voters on why it’s dangerous to allow politicians to control what is now a nonpartisan process,” the group’s treasurer, Skip Walther, said in the statement.

The court plan measure would allow sitting governors, over the course of a single four-year term, to pick four of the seven voting members of the Appellate Judicial Commission, which selects nominees for the appellate courts and the Supreme Court. The three remaining commissioners are lawyers elected by members of the bar. A retired judge would serve as a nonvoting member.

In contrast, the current plan features three lawyers elected by bar members, the chief justice of the Missouri Supreme Court and three gubernatorial appointees who serve staggered terms.

The proposed change also would remove the requirement in the current court plan that the governor’s appointees not be lawyers.

The 50-word ballot summary, written by Secretary of State Robin Carnahan, describes the provision as allowing the governor to “appoint all lawyers to the commission by removing the requirement that the governor’s appointees be nonlawyers.”

A lawsuit filed by supporters of the amendment claimed that language suggests that lawyers will get more influence over the process of picking judges, when the purpose of the amendment is to decrease their influence.

A Cole County circuit judge upheld the language last month, and the Missouri Court of Appeals Western District affirmed that decision following a hasty appeal. Chrismer said the decision to drop the campaign came after supporters decided an appeal to the Missouri Supreme Court would be fruitless.

As of Tuesday, the anti-Amendment 3 campaign had raised at least $410,000, mostly from Missouri law firms, according to Missouri Ethics Commission records. In contrast, funding in favor of changing the court plan consists of a single $80,000 donation from Better Courts for Missouri, a sister organization to the Missourians for Better Courts campaign committee.


Video: Battle lines drawn over Missouri Nonpartisan Court Plan during forum