Chief Justice Laura Denvir Stith
JEFFERSON CITY -- The increasingly-embattled committee that short-lists nominees for Missouri Supreme Court vacancies has finally come out swinging at conservative critics. After taking another hammering earlier Tuesday from St. Louis-based GOP Rep. Jim Lembke over charges that the Appellate Judicial Commission (AJC) broke Missouri's "Sunshine Law" in selecting the nominees, the commission smacked back. In a public statement released yesterday afternoon, it reminded "certain politicians" that the AJC must follow its own set of rules laid down by the Missouri Supreme Court. The AJC recently short-listed three Appeals Court judges for a state SC vacancy. Last week Jefferson City-based conservative think-tank the Adam Smith Foundation (ASF) charged the AJC majority with a strongly pro trial-lawyer bias. ASF, in an Aug. 2 press release, said four of the seven AJC members "have close ties" to the Missouri Association of Trial Attorneys (MATA). Three of the four mentioned are active MATA members. The AJC, chaired by Supreme Court Chief Justice Laura Denvir Stith, recently forwarded Governor Matt Blunt three Supreme Court nominees, two considered Democrat and one Republican. The Republican nominee - Judge Patricia A. Breckenridge - stood out on her experience and Republican credentials, LNL reported. But Blunt apparently dislikes all three and has made known he wanted more conservative nominees. That brought Lembke out swinging Tuesday. He claimed the AJC broke the state's open-records law by not publishing the full SC applicant list and by not opening selection meetings to the public or publishing minutes of candidate interviews. "The Sunshine Law has been violated," Lembke told the AP. That appeared too much for the AJC. Secretary Richard E. McLeod pointed out that the AJC is "governed by rules promulgated by the Supreme Court" to keep it from political interference. He also disputed Lembke's charge that the public was deprived of information about the latest selections. Nonetheless, Republican lawmakers and conservative activists appear set to continue a campaign to dump the AJC and the state's "non-partisan" process for selecting appellate judges. Some GOP politicians say they'll have the votes next year to alter or ditch the so-called "Missouri Plan," the Kansas City Star reported. Supporters of the plan have already begun marshalling their forces across the state in response to any moves to overturn it.