Mo. suit challenges summary of judicial measure

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — A lawsuit filed Friday claims that Missouri Secretary of State Robin Carnahan inaccurately and unfairly summarized a ballot measure dealing with judicial appointments by suggesting that lawyers could gain a greater role in the process when the intent is just the opposite.

The suit asks a Cole County judge to rewrite the official summary of the proposed constitutional amendment, which is to appear on the November ballot.

The proposal would change the composition of a special state commission that nominates finalists for vacancies on the Missouri Supreme Court and the state's three appeals courts. It also would increase the number of judicial finalists submitted to the governor from three to four.

Currently, the nominating commission consists of three citizens appointed by the governor, three attorneys elected by members of the Missouri Bar and a Supreme Court judge. The ballot measure would add a fourth gubernatorial appointee and replace the Supreme Court judge with a former appellate judge who would be a nonvoting member.

Carnahan's official summary of the measure states: "Shall the Missouri Constitution be amended to change the current nonpartisan selection of supreme court and court of appeals judges to a process that gives the governor increased authority to:

— appoint a majority of the commission that selects these court nominees; and

— appoint all lawyers to the commission by removing the requirement that the governor's appointees be nonlawyers?"

The lawsuit claims the summary is inaccurate and unfair in several ways, including by suggesting that the governor could appoint all lawyers to the commission. While that may be technically possible, "the summary implies that the amendment would give 'lawyers' greater control over the Commission. In fact, the reverse is true," says the lawsuit, which was publicized by the group Better Courts for Missouri.

Supporters of measure, which was referred to the ballot by the Legislature, say the intent is to decrease the influence of attorneys by allowing the governor to appoint more citizens. The suit also contends the summary is insufficient because it fails to mention that the number of judicial finalists would be increased.

The lawsuit suggests the judge should adopt an alternative summary, stating: "Shall the Missouri Constitution be amended to:

— remove the requirement that a majority of the voting members of the Appellate Judicial Commission be members of the Missouri Bar; and

— increase the number of appellate judicial candidates nominated by the Commission from three to four?"

A Carnahan spokesman defended the office's summary, as it has with previous suits challenging other ballot measure summaries.

"Once again, we maintain that our ballot summary language is fair and sufficient, and we are confident that the court will agree," said Carnahan spokesman Ryan Hobart. "This is just further proof that filing lawsuits has become a normal part of this process."

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