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Texas Supreme Court Chief Justice Thomas R. Phillips couldn’t have asked for a better week to lead a national summit on judicial selection. The courtroom battle for the presidency had reached its apex, and the Florida Supreme Court was drawing heat not only for its decisions, but also for the circumstances that surround the seating of its justices. It seemed the nation had finally realized that the judiciary was not totally immune from partisan politics — and it was concerned. This concern was hardly new to the 105 reform-minded judges, legislators and academics who attended the Summit on Improving Judicial Selection, held Dec. 8 and Dec. 9 in Chicago. Participants came from 17 of the country’s most populous states to debate such judicial campaign issues as conduct, fund-raising and voter awareness. It was the first time judicial and legislative leaders had joined forces to address these issues, according to the National Center for State Courts (NCSC), the Virginia-based nonprofit group that coordinated the event. The findings that resulted from the summit will eventually form the basis for a “Call to Action” position paper. Phillips hopes to release the paper to the public in time for the Conference of Chief Justices, to be held in Baltimore on Jan. 21, 2001. Phillips conceived the idea for a joint judicial and legislative meeting with Rodney Ellis, a Texas state senator from Houston. They then joined forces with Georgetown University Law Center professor and judicial election reform activist Roy A. Schotland, and took the concept to the NCSC, which Phillips says was anxious to become involved. The conference consisted primarily of working groups that met in hour-long blocks to discuss such issues as special interest involvement, public funding, campaign financing, performance evaluations, term lengths and limits, election timing, and public trust. Participants received various position papers to familiarize themselves with facts and trends prior to their participation in the discussion groups. Aside from a general sentiment that partisan judicial elections are improper, Phillips says the summit was designed to avoid any preordained results. The only subject off limits was the “judicial appointment vs. election” debate, a ground rule unanimously accepted by summit participants. Ellis and Phillips say they were pleased by the number of legislators that attended the summit. “I think it speaks very well to the possibilities of comprehensive reform,” says Phillips. SOME SOLUTIONS All discussion groups came together in the afternoon on Dec. 9 to report each group’s findings, suggestions and — occasionally — solutions. The exchanges were often heated as the summit participants struggled to form a consensus of topic and language for the Call to Action. As Schotland reminded the group, regardless of the care behind their decisions, criticism was inevitable. By the close of the summit, however, agreements had been reached. Participants had given the nod to including suggestions to form citizen screening groups to monitor campaign conduct; establish hotlines to provide candidates and supporters with instant, reliable campaign conduct advice; and create some type of committee to compile comprehensive judicial evaluations. Additionally, the Call to Action will include requests to study further the ABA Model Code’s regulations of judicial conduct and the feasibility of providing public funding for judicial elections. Methods to educate the public on judicial campaigns, such as using the Internet, also may be explored. As the conference closed, the participants had yet to sign off on all the positions to be included in the Call to Action. But Phillips says the summit has already been a success. “This conference told us the direction to turn our interest and showed us where to concentrate our efforts.” For more information on judicial selection, visit the National Center for State Courts’ Web site at http://www.ncsc.dni.us/.

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