Jefferson City, Mo. A Missouri judge on Friday dissolved a temporary restraining order against a political action committee run by a former state Supreme Court judge in a dispute over efforts to change the way judges are chosen.
The ShowMe Better Courts PAC, run by lobbyist James Harris, is in the midst of a petition drive to get a measure on the November ballot that would require all state judges in Missouri be elected. Some judges are currently appointed.
Harris’ group claims those gathering signatures have been subjected to physical intimidation by members of Supreme Court Judge Chip Robertson’s group, Missourians for Fair and Impartial Courts, which opposes the petition effort. Robertson denies there has been any physical violence.
A circuit judge in St. Charles County near St. Louis issued a temporary restraining order Thursday against Missourians for Fair and Impartial Courts, but dissolved the order Friday.
Robertson told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch the judge had concluded his group wasn’t given enough time to respond to the request for the restraining order.
Harris told The Associated Press his group would refile its application for a restraining order, noting the original order had been dissolved on a technical issue rather than on the merits of his group’s claims.
“Our argument will be the same — that voter suppression tactics are unacceptable,” Harris said.
ShowMe Better Courts’ campaign is aimed at Missouri’s so-called nonpartisan court plan, adopted in 1940. The plan calls for judges on appellate courts and five urban trial courts to be appointed by the governor from slates of three nominees submitted by special screening panels. The appointed judges then stand periodically for retention. Trial judges in the rest of the state are elected.
The selection system has become known nationwide as the “Missouri Plan” and has been adapted with varying levels of changes by numerous other states.
The legal action against Robertson’s PAC comes at the same time ShowMe Better Courts is running ads in Jefferson City accusing Robertson’s group of hiring “blockers” and “thugs” to get in the way of people gathering signatures.
Robertson said the timing of the ads and court filings “seems a little coincidental.”
Harris has hired a company to seek signatures on the petitions, and lawyers who are opposed to a ballot measure have been questioning petition gatherers. Some of the lawyers claim gatherers are giving voters inaccurate information to get them to sign petitions.
According to the Missouri Ethics Commission records, Harris has paid Lincoln Strategy Group more than $200,000 to seek petition signatures.