JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) -- For the first time, the attorneys seeking a spot on a Missouri appeals court have been publicly identified, allowing more scrutiny of a selection process that critics had complained was too secretive.
Judicial applicants for the state Supreme Court; three regional appeals courts; and trial courts in St. Louis city and Clay, Greene, Jackson, Platte and St. Louis counties are evaluated by special nominating panels that forward three names to the governor, who then appoints one. Judges in other counties are selected in traditional partisan elections.
Missouri court officials released the names Friday of 23 people who applied for an opening on the Missouri Court of Appeals, Southern District. Among the applicants are private attorneys and trial judges.
The courts in recent years have started releasing more information about judicial applicants as critics of the nominating process argue that the current system is too secretive and should be replaced with partisan elections or one in which nominees must gain Senate approval.
More information about judicial applicants has become available since 2008, when courts began releasing the applications of the three finalists for each position. The public also was notified of the meeting time and locations of the nominating committees. In December, the state Supreme Court decided the names of everyone interviewed by the nominating committees would revealed.
Missouri Chief Justice William Ray Price told a joint legislative session Wednesday that it was important for there to be separation between the selection of judges and politics and special interests. He said releasing the names of applicants makes the process more transparent.
"This step to transparency will allow the people of our state to judge the panels of three chosen for submission to the governor against all of those who are considered," Price said. "It is a significant and good change."
Missouri started picking some judges with the nominating process in 1940 to limit the politics involved in the judiciary and reduce urban political machines' influence. Critics contend politics are still heavily involved and the nominating panels are excessively influenced by trial attorneys.
James Harris, the executive director of the group Better Courts for Missouri, which is trying to change the judicial selection process, said in a statement that releasing the applicants' names is "small step" toward transparency.
A court hearing is scheduled Monday over a proposed ballot measure to amend the state constitution and select all judges through direct elections.
The applicants that were identified Friday are seeking to replace Judge John Parrish, who retired from the southern district appeals court Sept. 1 after spending more than three decades as a judge. All 23 people are white, eight are women and 15 are men. Twelve people live in Springfield, 11 work solely for the government, 11 are private attorneys and one works in the public and private sectors.
The people seeking a spot on the appeals court are: Carol T. Aiken; David C. Jones; Mary W. Sheffield; Elizabeth E. Bock; Michael A. Moroni; Craig A. Smith; James A. Burt; Kelly W. Parker; Stephen H. Snead; Charles D. Curless; Mark A. Powell; Randee S. Stemmons; Deborah K. Dodge; Jo Beth Prewitt; Tracy L. Storie; James C. Egan; John E. Price; Andrew P. Wodd; William W. Francis Jr.; Richard L. Rollings Jr.; Wendy E. Yocum; Margaret E. Holden; James R. Sharp.
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