An opinion piece in The New York Times a few days ago highlighted the problems created by the influence of political contributions in our judicial system. The piece was titled Judicial Elections and the Bottom Line. Unfortunately, the article spotlighted Alabama as an example of this problem. In the last 10 years, Alabama has had the costliest judicial races in the United States.
In the last few years, Alabama’s judicial system has faced a number of problems created by money and politics that impact the administration of justice. People who need the court system to fairly decide their claims face two separate problems related to money.
The first issue is the huge amount of money flowing to judicial candidates as contributions. Most judges that I know care deeply about justice and do everything possible to decide their cases fairly. The flow of big money into appellate court races puts a cloud over the whole system. Citizens deserve to know that justice will be fair and impartial. That is why I have long argued that we need to reform the way we select judges to remove partisan politics and the influence of big money.
The second money issue facing our judicial system is the result of severe budget cuts. Due to those cuts the courts have not only cut necessary services, they have also raised basic fees to the point that many simple claims are far too costly. Our court system does not just charge you a fee to file your case. You also pay separate fees for many different types of routine filings and motions. So, in a normal case, you may incur numerous fees that can quickly add up to one huge cost. The result makes it difficult for individuals having minor personal injury claims or small business disputes to afford the high cost of justice. This creates a barrier to many people who need the court system to resolve their disputes.