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Ladue Horton Watkins High School Student Wins First Place in Judges-Umpires of the Law Essay Contest

Ladue Horton Watkins High School 11th grade student Alexander Rakov won  first place in the recent Law Day Essay Contest sponsored by The Missouri Bar Citizenship Education Program.

“I think that laws are important because they act as guidelines for how people should act while also ensuring that they remain safe,” Rakov said. “Courts are equally important because they enforce laws while ensuring society remains in order.”

The essay contest is designed for Missouri school students in grades 6-12. The essay theme is “Fair and Impartial Courts,” commemorating the 75th anniversary of the Missouri Non-Partisan Court Plan, commonly called the Missouri Plan. Participating students were asked to depict how the role of judges in the courtroom can be compared to the role of umpires or referees at a ballgame and how the Missouri Plan for the selection of judges promotes this role.

The contest encourages students to express themselves while also allowing them the opportunity to gain a greater understanding of the importance of a fair and impartial judicial system.

Rakov is a Volunteer Income Tax Assistance Program certified volunteer and a member of Ladue Horton Watkin High School’s board game club. He said he wants to pursue a career in the field of medicine and hopes to get into a university with good pre-medical programs.

Read the winning essay written by Rakov:

The roles of an umpire in a ballgame and a judge in a courtroom are very similar in that they both act as overseers in their respective fields. In baseball, an umpire or umpires watch the game and are responsible for making calls. For example, they determine whether or not a player caught a ball that was hit by the batter and if the batter is out. In the same way, a judge is often responsible for determining the facts of a case and for ruling on whether a defendant has violated the law.

Judges and umpires are also similar in that they are both in charge of interpreting the rules or laws that are in force. In court, judges can use their power of interpretation to extend the reach of the law. For example, a judge can interpret a law that only requires the passengers in a car to wear seatbelts to apply to the operator of the vehicle as well. In the same manner, an umpire has the power to make decisions on matters that are not specifically written in the rules. An umpire can determine if a questionable action by a player is prohibited even if it is not directly banned.

Possibly the most important similarity between the role of a judge and an umpire is that they both are tasked with being impartial. In baseball, it is essential that the umpire remain impartial because if he is not then there is no point in playing. The winner has been predetermined. Similarly, in court a judge has to be neutral because otherwise the trial loses all integrity and ceases to be a real trial.

In baseball, umpires are not chosen by the opposing teams. Ideally, they are chosen by a neutral party.  For example, in Major League Baseball the impartiality of umpires is maintained by the Major League Baseball commissioner who chooses the specific umpires for games, free of improper influence. In court systems too, the teams, whose equivalents are the plaintiff and defendant, need a means by which to appoint an impartial decision maker. In Missouri, the Missouri Plan establishes independent commissions whose sole purpose is to impartially appoint judges.

The Missouri Plan was created during the 1940’s after elections for judicial positions had become corrupt. The plan establishes a nonpartisan, impartial commission that reviews applications from those seeking to serve as judges. The commission that selects judges for the Missouri Supreme Court and the Missouri Court of Appeals is called the Appellate Judicial Commission. It is comprised of seven people. The Missouri Bar elects three, another three are citizens appointed by the governor and the final member is the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Missouri, who leads the commission.

The commission is responsible for providing the governor with three names for each judicial position. The governor picks one name and appoints that individual to be a judge. After appointment, the judge serves for one year, at the end of which time a retention election determines if he or she will keep the seat, allowing voters to have the final say. If the person is not retained, the process of appointment starts over.

The plan supports fairness and impartiality by ensuring that judges are not influenced by those who helped them obtain their position. Though at first the lack of an election may appear to reduce each voter’s voice in the selection of judges, the Plan ensures that judges are chosen on merit alone and have the necessary skills to fulfill their duties effectively and fairly. Like a baseball game, a judge must know the laws that have been set in place to obtain the most accurate verdict possible.

Another benefit of the plan is that it eliminates the need for judges to campaign. In a typical campaign, politicians make promises of political favors to those who are willing to donate large sums of money to their bids for election. In the case of a judge however, owing a political favor to an individual could greatly affect how that judge would rule in a case involving that person, potentially making the trial unfair. This is like an umpire who has received payment from one side and is then tempted to make calls that would skew the game in that side’s favor.

In the end, the plan guarantees the best judicial system possible. Just as umpires can be removed for making too many incorrect calls, judges too are held to the highest standards. The plan makes it so that only judges with integrity and skill are able to remain in their positions.

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