TRAVERSE CITY — A couple of simple changes in the law could resolve problems that tarnish the state’s judicial system.
That’s the message of retired Michigan Supreme Court Justice Marilyn Kelly, who will speak in Traverse City next week about what many believe is the corrupting influence of money and partisanship in the state’s judicial system.
Michigan campaign finance law allows money to be spent on “issue ads” without revealing where the money came from, she said.
Of the almost $19 million spent in the last election for the Supreme Court, 72 percent was “dark” money — judicial campaign contributions that can’t be tracked to individuals or contributions.
“Sixty-three percent (of polled Michiganders) believe the people behind these vicious, and often untrue, ads influence judges in their court decisions,” she said.
Kelly isn’t alone in her criticism. Retired Michigan Supreme Court Justice Betty Weaver of Glen Arbor wrote a book on the topic, “Judicial Deceit: Tyranny and Unnecessary Secrecy at the Michigan Supreme Court” released in May.
“Reform the money,” Weaver said in an April interview. “Instant, complete, reporting of all money. No hiding behind groups of Justice for People or People for Justice. Every contribution has to be individual, and it cannot be People for Justice, which is a whole bunch of unknown people. It’s dark money.”
Kelly and U.S. Court of Appeals Judge Jim Ryan co-authored a report last summer that raised alarms about the public’s perception of the court’s partisanship and objectivity.
The Ryan-Kelly commission urged lawmakers to change the finance law, as well as how justices are nominated and backed by the major political parties. But no action was taken, said Kelly.
“I would like people to call their representatives,” she said.
The problem of issue ads also extend to lower courts, Kelly said.
Kelly will speak Sept. 26 from 7 to 9 p.m., at the Traverse Area District Library, 610 Woodmere Ave. Light refreshments will be served.
The event is free and the public is invited. The lecture is part of the ACLU Michigan Northwest Branch’s ongoing “Justice for All” series of lectures.