This is not a post about the problems with electing judges and whether a different method of judicial selection might be better. This is a post about what duty lawyers have to elevate the civic conversation about the people who are candidates for judicial office.
A major task force of legal luminaries, the Judicial Crossroads Task Force, has just completed 15 months of work to make sure that our system of justice doesn't shut down in the face of Michigan's grinding funding crisis. A central focus was the importance of maintaining public trust and confidence in our legal system. Meanwhile, our citizenry has just been bombarded for weeks with over $10 million worth of propaganda about judicial candidates whose only certain effect must surely be to undermine trust and confidence in the judicial system.
What to do?
As lawyers we all know this, whatever and however strong our individual preferences might be in this race. But how many of us take the time when we are asked for our recommendations on a judicial contest to make the point that none of the candidates are the monsters they're depicted as in campaign ads? How many of us take advantage of this "teaching moment" to educate about the adjudicative process and correct the crude parodies that substitute for a useful understanding of real but subtle differences in judicial philosophies?
I'm not talking to or about the lawyers who are actually involved in conceiving, developing, or approving the shameless distortions or outright falsities of the campaign ads. Their sins of commission are more obvious and serious, but that problem is a harder nut to crack. I'm talking about the rest of us. Let's stop just wringing our hands about the horrors of campaign ads and start doing what we do best - educate and persuade the jury of our fellow citizens, through facts and reasoning, without hyperbole, exaggeration, condescension, or dishonesty.