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Idaho Supreme Court Chief Justice Wants Raises and Protection

G. Richard Bevan asked state lawmakers to give pay raises to judges, which were the only class of state employees that did not receive increases this year, and to protect their security amid a perilous political climate.

Idaho Supreme Court Justices
Idaho Supreme Court justices are seated at the public inauguration ceremony for Gov. Brad Little and other newly ordained state officials. Idaho Chief Justice G. Richard Bevan, left, asked lawmakers for protection amid a “dangerous” political climate Wednesday.
Sarah A. Miller/TNS
(TNS) — Idaho Supreme Court Chief Justice G. Richard Bevan on Wednesday, Jan. 18, asked state lawmakers to give raises to judges and protect their security amid a “dangerous” political climate.

The remarks were part of Bevan’s State of the Judiciary address to the Idaho House and Senate, an annual speech similar to the governor’s State of the State. Bevan praised Idaho courts’ ability to fulfill their constitutional duties and invited lawmakers to visit the courts in their district to see for themselves.

He also described a number of challenges facing the judicial branch, from costly technology that makes court more accessible to a perilous political climate, in which judges are threatened, targeted for attack or killed, as a Wisconsin judge was last year.

“Unfortunately, we live in an age when those who object to the balance in our fair democratic republic seem increasingly disposed to tear it down,” Bevan said.

A California man last year was arrested and accused of plotting to assassinate Supreme Court Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh. In Idaho, courts face “veiled threats,” Bevan said, including judges having their personal information published online and facing protests at their homes.

Former independent gubernatorial candidate Ammon Bundy and his supporters in recent years have organized multiple protests outside the homes of public officials, including a magistrate judge overseeing a case involving Bundy.

“The judges to whom these threats are directed are simply doing their difficult job of making decisions within an established framework of law, regardless of their personal feelings about the law,” Bevan said. “These interactions at their homes, at their places of respite and peace, are not just an affront to the rule of law, but also a danger that we ask you to address.”

In 2021, Idaho lawmakers rejected a bill that would have barred protesters from harassing or intimidating elected officials by protesting outside their homes.

Chief Justice Requests Judicial Raises

Bevan also asked lawmakers to give judges raises this year, after they were the only class of state employees that did not receive pay increases. Other state employees received at least 3 percent raises, across the board, along with merit-based increases.

Legislators last year tied the judicial raises to a controversial bill that would have changed the makeup of the Idaho Judicial Council, a board that vets judges for gubernatorial appointment. Gov. Brad Little vetoed the legislation.

Lagging compensation is leading a lack of applicants for judicial positions, Bevan said Wednesday. District court judge openings are attracting just five applicants, on average, he said.

“With no disrespect to those who applied, this is simply inadequate,” he said.

A recent survey of Idaho State Bar members found political polarization and inadequate compensation are among the most common concerns for judicial positions. Topping the list of concerns, however, was the judicial selection process.

Judicial Selection Legislation Back on the Table

When there’s a vacancy on the Supreme Court, court of appeals or district court, a new judge is appointed by the governor, who selects the appointment from a short list vetted by the Idaho Judicial Council.

The nonpartisan committee is composed of the chief justice, a district court judge, two attorneys appointed by the State Bar and three non-attorneys appointed by the governor. Magistrate judges are appointed by a commission of local officials.

Three in 10 respondents to the survey of State Bar members said they believe there is bias in the judicial selection process. Political ideals and sex were the top two forms of perceived bias against applicants, the survey found.

The 2022 legislation that included judicial salaries would have increased the number of gubernatorial appointments to the Judicial Council and given the executive branch oversight over eight seats on the council.

Bipartisan opponents said the changes would politicize the process for appointing judges. Little vetoed the bill, saying the changes needed more time to be worked out.

The debate likely will resurface this year. House Speaker Mike Moyle, R-Star, recently told reporters he’d support eliminating the council altogether, and instead judges would only be elected by voters or appointed by the governor with the Legislature’s support.

Judges “play this game,” Moyle said, and retire before an upcoming election so their successor can be appointed, neglecting voters.

“Judges should be elected like the rest of us,” Moyle said.

©2023 The Idaho Statesman. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
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