Gavel Grab

Archive for the 'Judicial Elections' Category

Article: Secretive Political Groups Flourish After ‘Citizens United’

iStock_000015670171Small1“At least four mysterious groups targeted candidates for state judicial races,” the Center for Public Integrity reports in a broader article about secretive nonprofit groups that played in the 2014 elections and flourished.

“Such secretive spending is especially concerning within the judicial community because donors could come before a judge whom their dollars helped elect,” CPI notes.

Its article mentions Law Enforcement Alliance of America spending on TV advertising critical of attorney Tim Cullen, who was defeated by Court of Appeals Judge Robin Wynne (see Gavel Grab) in an Arkansas Supreme Court contest, and support by a group called American Freedom Builders for the successful re-election bid of Ohio Supreme Court Justice Judi French.

The U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling in 2010 was followed by a wave of so-called “social welfare” nonprofit groups spending in elections, and these groups are not required to disclose their donors, the article says.

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Justice Karmeier Criticizes ‘Smear Campaign’ Waged Against Him

Illinois Supreme Court Justice Lloyd Karmeier, who narrowly won retention when voters went to the polls in November (see Gavel Grab), has criticized those who funded a costly ouster campaign.

At an awards event for another judge, Justice Karmeier called the effort “a smear campaign of the worst sort and a direct challenge to the integrity and independence of the courts,” according to the Madison-St. Clair (Il.) Record.

He said the anti-retention drive came from “a handful of lawyers from Chicago and from some other states who stood to profit financially by reshaping the makeup of the court.” Read more

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Column: Independent Spending Dominated 2014 Judicial Elections

Large-scale independent spending ushered in by the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision dominated this year’s judicial elections, according to the Center for American Progress.

Independent spending totaled more than $8.5 million of an overall $15 million spent on the elections, according to CAP, which said it was the first time that independent spending outpaced candidate spending.

In a column entitled “The Million Dollar Judges of 2014,” CAP reported the following top state judges whose campaigns benefited from more than $1 million in spending, including by lawyers or corporations who might appear before them in court: North Carolina Chief Justice Mark Martin, Ohio Justice Judith French, and Michigan Justices Brian Zahra and Richard Bernstein. The column by Billy Corriher concluded: Read more

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Editorials Scrutinize Big Spending in Judicial Elections

I-Am-a-Money-Magnet-the-secret-23316442-500-372Citing Missouri billionaire Rex Sinquefield’s $300,000 donation to a Washington, D.C. group that tried to defeat a local Missouri judge, a St. Louis Post-Dispatch editorial asks Sinquefield for more transparency and less deceit.

In an editorial styled as a letter to Sinquefield, the editorial board asks, “Could you please instruct your vast army of political operatives to stop being deceitful about how they spend your money?” It acknowledges that on some issues it agrees philosophically with the activist donor, but “When you — or the people who work for you — secretly funnel money into Washington, D.C., political action committees to hide the source of the funds, it looks really sneaky and underhanded.”

The letter refers to money Sinquefield gave to the Republican State Leadership Committee and its spending that amount and more to defeat Cole County Circuit Judge Pat Joyce, who ultimately won reelection in November (see Gavel Grab). It says “your spokespeople wouldn’t fess up. Neither would the RSLC.” Read more

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Article: ‘Bad News for Defendants’ When Judicial Races Get Ugly

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This year’s judicial elections may be past, but the threat to impartial courts from costly races featuring soft-on-crime attack ads endures, suggests a lengthy article at The Atlantic.

The longterm impact of tough-on-crime campaigns employing fear as a tactic gets scrutiny in a lengthy article by Christie Thompson entitled, “Trial by Cash: Judicial elections have gotten ugly. That’s bad news for defendants.”

“The funders of these campaigns aren’t generally motivated by a desire to lock up criminals,” Thompson writes. “But fear works, election strategists believe. Why run on what really matters to your funders—like tort reform or deregulation—when you can run against paroling pedophiles?”

And elected judges may carry out their own campaigns’ tough-on-crime promises on the bench “for fear of being pilloried in the next election,” the article paraphrases defense attorneys as suggesting. It also quotes former Alabama Read more

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Commentary Urges Transparency in Funding Illinois Court Races

In a Chicago Tribune op-ed, lawyer Robert A. Clifford says he and other attorneys who contributed heavily to oppose the retention of Illinois Justice Lloyd Karmeier did so with public disclosure, whereas those who bankrolled Karmeier in 2004 and this year were cloaked in secrecy.

iStock_000015670171Small1“Insurance companies and large corporations have funneled money through organizations such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce so that the specific identities of the donors remain anonymous. Voters can’t find out who funneled money to the organizations for those purposes,” Clifford writes.

“How can voters make an informed decision about who should be on the Illinois courts if they don’t have all of the facts?”

A day ago, Gavel Grab mentioned Clifford’s efforts to depose Justice Karmeier in connection with a racketeering lawsuit against State Farm. The lawsuit contends that the insurance company funded a multimillion-dollar campaign a decade ago to elect Karmeier to the Supreme Court. Read more

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Will Judge be Deposed by Lawyer Who Tried to Defeat Him?

Could an attorney who invested $150,000 in an unsuccessful effort to defeat Illinois Supreme Court Justice Lloyd Karmeier end up deposing him in a client’s case?

A Madison-St. Clair (Il.) Record article raises that possibility in reporting on a pledge by Chicago lawyer Robert Clifford to act with courtesy if he is allowed to depose the jurist. Justice Karmeier has asked a federal magistrate to block or limit the deposition, and Clifford made his statement to the magistrate in opposition to Justice Karmeier’s stance. Read more

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JAS: Spending ‘Brawl’ Ahead in Pennsylvania Court Election?

gavel-and-cash.125192919_stdA high spending free-for-all could erupt when three Pennsylvania Supreme Court seats will be up for election in 2015, and national interest groups may target the off-year contest, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports while quoting Justice at Stake.

“What we’re seeing in state after state across the country is TV spending records smashed year after year,” JAS Executive Director Bert Brandenburg told the newspaper. “Pennsylvania is no stranger to big-money spending in judicial elections. You already have a culture there for big spending; it’s hard to imagine that this won’t be a spending brawl. … The wild card is, will out-of-state interests jump in?”

The 2015 contests will determine the partisan composition of the court in a year when an unprecedented number of seats will come before voters at once. Read more

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Candidate: Pass Prosser Ethics Case to Another State

A misconduct complaint against Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice David Prosser from several years ago remains in limbo, but it won’t disappear.

Now a candidate for the Supreme Court has suggested shipping the ethics case to the high court of another state, according to a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel article. Two legal experts told the newspaper, however, the proposal did not appear legally sound.

A state discipline commission complaint said Justice Prosser had violated the code of judicial ethics when he allegedly put Justice Ann Walsh Bradley in a chokehold during an argument in 2011 (see Gavel Grab). Justice Prosser contends he was defending himself. Read more

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Investigative Report Questions ‘Lear Jet Justice’ in West Virginia

WV Supreme Court SealOnce again the West Virginia Supreme Court is the topic of a critical, hard-hitting news report. It questions whether election-year fundraising and a private Lear Jet deal tipped the scales of justice, or at least gave that appearance.

The ABC News report by Brian Ross is entitled, “Lear Jet Justice in West Virginia? A ‘Circus Masquerading as a Court.'” Not long ago, West Virginia became the poster child for critics of runaway judicial election spending in a case that brought disrepute to the court and resulted in the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark Caperton v. Massey ruling (see the JAS web page for background). Here is the heart of the new ABC report:

“As a $90 million jury verdict was wending its way to the West Virginia Supreme Court, the lawyer handling the nursing home abuse case did more than prepare appellate briefs and ready himself for oral arguments. He was, critics said, pulling every lever available to him to try to give his client an edge outside the legal system — lining up thousands of dollars in campaign contributions for the court’s chief justice and negotiating a private deal to buy a $1.3 million Lear Jet from her husband.

“When the nursing home case finally reached the state’s high court earlier this year, Chief Justice Robin Jean Davis wrote the majority opinion upholding the jury verdict for the client of lawyer Michael Fuller, though lowering the final payout to just over $40 million. The cut for Fuller’s firm: more than $17 million — one of the largest payouts he’s ever secured.”

Read more

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