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Critics of Missouri's Court Plan Propose Ballot Measure

On Monday, a group hoping to overhaul the way Missouri chooses its judges hand-delivered a ballot initiative to the Secretary of State’s office in Jefferson City. KSMU’s Jennifer Moore has details.

Currently, under the system known as the Missouri Plan, or the Non-Partisan Court Plan, all applicants for appeals courts and some urban trial courts are screened by special committees. The panels nominate three finalists and the governor appoints one to the court.

But a group called “Better Courts for Missouri” says that plan is wrought with politics, and is suggesting that voters are given the chance to scrap the current process. James Harris is the group’s executive director.

Harris says it's a misnomer to say it's a "non-partisan" process. He said 100 percent of the lawyers on the Appelate Judicial Commission are, or were on at the time of their election, the Board of Governors of the Missouri Association of Trial Attorneys. He says the problem is that that's a special interest group with an agenda.

Harris is proposing instead a selection process that more closely resembles how federal judges are picked. He recommends that the governor appoint a judge, and let the Senate hold hearings to confirm him or her.

Missouri’s current system was created to reduce the politics of partisan judicial elections. Supporters say it still serves that purpose. Over the past several years, however, some Republicans have complained that the nominating committees have been hijacked by trail attorneys and favor liberals.For KSMU News, I’m Jennifer Moore.(The Associated Press contributed to this report)