Constitution trumps Sunshine Law

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

By Jim Jeffries

I feel strongly compelled to write this because of the Sept. 17 article "Ethics discussed in private" by Rudi Keller and because of what I see and hear practically every day whenever someone uses the words "activist judge."

What is an activist judge? It is a term used by those who don't agree with a decision a judge has made. It really means nothing. It's simple words coined to inflame a public eager to accept a judge's alleged incompetence. The term is used in a derogatory manner to denigrate a judge who has made a decision arrived at through a judicial system that is constitutionally require in order to render judgment on the legal issues concerning a case.

Now an unscrupulous population has begun the attack on the process of selecting judges in Missouri.

I read "Ethics discussed in private" with a great deal of concern about our voting public and how they are being influenced by untruths from self-serving individuals and special-interest groups that would deny Missourians the independent manner of nominating judges to Missouri's court system.

And, as you are well aware, one such group is called the Adam Smith Foundation. When one visits its Web site, the reason for its being becomes apparent: put politics back into the nonpolitical manner in which nominees for Missouri's supreme court, court of appeals and circuit courts are selected.

The article says: "And the state courts' Appellate Judicial Nominating Commission names three candidates for the Missouri Supreme Court without ever posting a notice where and when it is meeting."

What all three of those incidents have in common is that they all generated loud protests that the state's Open Meetings and Records Act, known as the Sunshine Law, was being blatantly violated.

Our public should be better educated. The Sunshine Law was never violated. No open-meeting notice is required. The commission does its work according to the Missouri Constitution.

It is truly unfortunate that people don't take the time to learn about Missouri's constitutionally provided-for method of selecting people for the governor to interview and nominate from. The Missouri Constitution, Article V, Section 25 (d) provided for that independent process and for the membership of each appellate and circuit judicial commission. Further stated in this section is, "All such commissions shall be administered, and all elections provided for under this section shall be held and regulated, under such rules as the supreme court shall promulgate."

That constitutional provision renders the Sunshine Law irrelevant. The Missouri Constitution takes precedence. Furthermore, in the Sunshine Law one will find this provision:

"1. It is the public policy of this state that meetings, records, votes, actions, and deliberations of public governmental bodies be open to the public unless otherwise provided by law. Sections 610.010 and 610.200 shall be liberally construed and their exceptions strictly construed to promote this public policy."

Unless otherwise provided by law. That says it all. The Missouri Constitution is the law. The supreme court wrote the rules to implement this provision, and it follows them. The Appellate Judicial Nominating Commission did its job and continues to do its job as constitutionally provided for. It takes its job seriously. It is unfortunate the common man in Missouri seems to be so easily persuaded by lies and innuendo by those self-serving individuals and special-interest groups like the Adam Smith Foundation.

It is my hope that your newspaper and others throughout the state will continually bring these facts to the forefront and educate your readers about the process of selecting judges in our state. It is one of the best systems in the nation, if not in the world. We cannot afford to lose it by having political hooligans attack the system and lie to the public about it.

It is up to the free press to tell the truth. And it is my sincere hope that the media in Cape Girardeau and throughout the state will focus on these facts. It seems to me that only through the process of providing facts will there be any chance of overcoming the treachery and underhandedness of these unscrupulous people and special-interest groups.

Jim Jeffries resides in Jefferson City, Mo.

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