Last month, Wisconsin voters elected a judge; such elections are virtually unknown in the rest of the world, says the New York Times. The vote came after a bitter $5 million campaign in which a small-town trial judge with thin credentials ran a television ad falsely suggesting that the only black justice on the state Supreme Court had helped free a black rapist. The challenger unseated the justice with 51 percent of the vote, and will join the court in August. The challenger juxtaposed the images of his opponent, Justice Louis B. Butler Jr., in judicial robes, with Ruben Mitchell, who had raped an 11-year-old girl. “Butler found a loophole,” the ad said. “Mitchell went on to molest another child. Can Wisconsin families feel safe with Louis Butler on the Supreme Court?” Butler had represented Mitchell as a lawyer and had persuaded two appeals courts that his rape trial had been flawed. But the state Supreme Court ruled that the error was harmless, and it did not release the defendant.
Judges often alter their behavior as elections approach. A study in Pennsylvania by Gregory Huber and Sanford Gordon found that “all judges, even the most punitive, increase their sentences as re-election nears,” resulting in some 2,700 years of additional prison time, or 6 percent of total prison time, in aggravated assault, rape and robbery sentences over a 10-year period.