J.A.I.L. poll puts amendment ahead
September 27, 2006
A poll paid for by supporters of the "Judicial Accountability Amendment" shows two thirds of likely voters favor the ballot measure, but opponents of the amendment say the survey was a "push poll" designed to skew the results.
Amendment E also nicknamed "J.A.I.L" for "Judicial Accountability Initiative Law" would set up a permanent, paid grand jury of citizens who would hear complaints about judges. The grand jury also would have the power to investigate and discipline judges removing them from the bench, cutting their retirement and even indicting them.
Voters will decide the issue in the general election Nov. 7.
Supporters of Amendment E, such as Bill Stegmeier of Tea who sponsored the petition drive to get the measure on the ballot, say it sets up a mechanism to hold "out-of-control" judges accountable to citizens.
Opponents, such as Tom Barnett of Pierre, a spokesman for the Vote No on E Committee, say the measure would put at personal risk all kinds of public officials from school board members to judges.
The telephone survey of 504 "likely voters" was conducted Sept. 20 by Zogby International, a professional pollster based in New York.
Stegmeier, who is treasurer of South Dakota Judicial Accountability, said his group paid $1,200 to add an Amendment E question to a Zogby poll already set to be taken.
The question was:
"Amendment E, called the Judicial Accountability Amendment, will be on the ballot this November. The amendment would allow the creation of a citizen's oversight committee or special grand jury which would hear complaints of alleged judicial misconduct against judges. If a judge is found guilty three times of having engaged in judicial misconduct, he or she would be removed from office and could never serve in any judicial capacity in South Dakota again. Will you vote for Amendment E or will you vote against Amendment E?"
The result was 67 percent for, 20 percent against and 13 percent undecided.
Stegmeier denied he had designed a biased question. "Zogby wrote it. I didn't have anything to do with it," he said.
Barnett, a spokesman for the Vote No on E Committee, said: "That's a push poll. It's unfortunate they didn't poll on Amendment E, which would do horrible things to good people."
South Dakota Attorney General Larry Long's official explanation of the amendment, which will appear on ballots, says "citizens serving on juries, school boards, city councils, county commissions, or in similar capacities" could be stripped of immunity and liability insurance.
Long has argued that any public officials with "judicial authority" would be at risk.
Stegmeier says Amendment E would apply only to judges and magistrates. The word "judge," he has pointed out, appears 35 times in the amendment, which makes no mention of school board members or other officials.
But Stegmeier also acknowledged that the question in the Zogby poll did not explain the details of Amendment E. "That would have been impossible," he said. "It's a huge amendment."
In fact, the 23-section amendment runs to more than 2,000 words. Some of its provisions would:
- Pay the 13 special grand jurors the same as circuit court judges.
- Require the Legislature to pay for offices and administrative expenses for the grand jury.
- Deduct 1.9 percent from current judges' salaries to pay for the special grand jury.
- Prohibit lawyers, judges, law enforcement personnel and elected officials from serving on the grand jury.
- Require that complaints against judges be "liberally construed in favor of the complainant."
Stegmeier says the poll results are good news for his group, South Dakota Judicial Accountability, which is operating on a small budget.
Barnett, who also is executive director of the South Dakota Bar Association, said the Vote No on E Committee had not commissioned a poll, but he believes that voters who read the amendment will "overwhelmingly reject it."
Copyright 2006, The Rapid City Journal
From: The Rapid City Journal, September 27, 2006, Rapid City, South Dakota, http://www.rapidcityjournal.com/articles/2006/09/27/news/top/news01b.txt, accessed 09/29/06. Bill Harlan may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Reprinted in accordance with the "fair use" provision of Title 17 U.S.C. § 107 for a non-profit educational purpose.