Gavel Grab

Archive for the 'Recusal' Category

Essay: High Spending on NC Court Races, and Low Accountability

NORTH-CAROLINA-FLAG-300x224With spending in North Carolina’s Supreme Court contest approaching $4 million, some expenditures can undermine a perception of judicial impartiality, yet the state ranks in the basement for ethics rules addressing court transparency and accountability, a commentator suggests.

At NC Policy Watch, Sharon McCloskey tackles this issue in a commentary with a headline asking, “What do justices owe voters in exchange for taking their cash?”

“Judges raising campaign dollars, particularly from attorneys and firms likely to appear before them in court, is a scenario so obviously rife with the potential for undue influence and bias that it’s been banned in most places,” McCloskey writes. “But in North Carolina and eight other states, judges are Read more

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JAS: Judicial Election Spending Will Spark More Recusal Spats

Seal_of_the_Supreme_Court_of_Wisconsin.svgFour Wisconsin Supreme Court justices are facing some calls to recuse themselves from hearing a high-profile controversy due to their benefitting from campaign spending by involved groups (see Gavel Grab). A Wisconsin State Journal article quotes Justice at Stake in suggesting the Wisconsin circumstances are likely to be far from unique.

“No matter how it’s resolved, these kinds of episodes are going to happen over and over again as more money piles up around state judicial elections,” Justice at Stake Executive Director Bert Brandenburg told the newspaper.

Tougher rules governing judicial recusal when judges face campaign supporters in the courtroom provide “insulation” that helps preserve impartial courts, Brandenburg said, and JAS called unsuccessfully in 2010 for the Wisconsin justices to adopt more robust recusal rules. Read more

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Editorials: Wisconsin Court Under Cloud, Reform is Needed

Seal_of_the_Supreme_Court_of_Wisconsin.svgWith the Wisconsin Supreme Court beset by credibility problems arising from judicial election spending on justices’ behalf, two editorials say, it’s time to seriously consider switching to a better method for picking judges.

As Gavel Grab mentioned earlier, the high court has before it a decision whether to shut down a state campaign finance investigation, and four justices have benefitted from millions of dollars of campaign spending by several of the targeted groups. Some experts have said the justices should recuse themselves.

A Milwaukee Journal Sentinel editorial said recusal is not the answer because recusals could “paralyze” the court. “The real answer to this court’s chronic credibility problem is to reduce the influence of deep-pocketed outside groups,” it said, noting both the editorial board’s past support for a merit selection system while signaling interest in a 16-year term limit proposal for Supreme Court justices advanced last year by a State Bar panel (see Gavel Grab). Read more

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Justice Karmeier Won’t Recuse; Donations in His Election at Issue

Justice Karmeier

Justice Karmeier

Justice Lloyd Karmeier of the Illinois Supreme Court has rejected a request by lawyers for plaintiffs suing Philip Morris to recuse himself from participating in an appeal on grounds there was a public perception he is biased, the Madison-St. Clair Record reported.

In a rare, 16-page order, Justice Karmeier explained his decision not to recuse and he “addressed the plaintiffs’ allegations he voted to overturn the $10.1 billion verdict against the tobacco company in 2005, the year after it funneled donations to his campaign for the high court,” the newspaper said. Read more

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On Marriage Ruling Appeal, Arkansas Justices Reject Recusal

The Arkansas Supreme Court has rejected a request that any  justices who intend to run for re-election step aside from hearing an appeal of a ruling that struck down a state ban on marriage for same-sex couples.

The plaintiffs who requested recusal said  legislators have employed “intimidation tactics” to influence the outcome of the appeal before the high court, and if the court ultimately ruled for Arkansas, it could be perceived as a decision influenced by the legislature (see Gavel Grab).

The court made no comment in denying the motion for recusal, according to the Associated Press. 

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ABA Recommends Recusal Procedures

aba law journalThe ABA Journal reports that the American Bar Association House of Delegates adopted recusal policy at last week’s annual meeting.

The policy urges states and territories to adopt judicial disqualification and recusal procedures concerning campaign financing in judicial election campaigns.

According to the article, “Resolution 105C follows earlier efforts beginning in 2011 to address concerns raised by the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Caperton v. A.T. Massey Coal Co., which said that due process requires recusal when campaign funding raises ‘a serious risk of actual bias.’ A proposal in 2012 to add stricter, more detailed guidelines for judges ran into opposition. Thus the policy adopted today addressed procedures.

Robert S. Peck, who is a  Justice at Stake board member,  spoke on behalf of the proposal telling the House of Delegates that the measure has the endorsement of the Conference of Chief Justices.

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Arkansas Attorney General: Electing Judges is a Mistake

arkansas_flag_web_fc1aArkansas Attorney General Dustin McDaniel said this week that he believes electing state judges is a mistake and that Arkansas should consider shifting to a method like Missouri’s, combining an appointive process and retention (up-or-down) elections when judges seek a new term.

The Associated Press reported McDaniel’s remarks in an article that was headlined, “Couples ask justices to recuse in marriage case.” Some couples challenging an Arkansas ban on marriage of same-sex couples have requested that any Arkansas Supreme Court justices who intend to run for re-election step aside from hearing an appeal in matter. The plaintiffs say legislators have employed “intimidation tactics” to influence the outcome of an appeal before the high court.

In June, the Arkansas Legislative Council approved a resolution declaring that state Judge Chris Piazza had “overstepped his judicial authority” and that urged the state Supreme Court to reverse his ruling (see Gavel Grab). Judge Piazza had struck down a state ban on marriage for same-sex couples. Read more

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New Ethics Rules Affect Pennsylvania Judges Weighing Recusal

New ethics rules for Pennsylvania judges touch on numerous practices. One of the most potentially injurious practices involves judges taking campaign donations from parties who later appear before them in court.

One of the new rules advises judges to step aside from hearing a case if they learn that a party to it made a campaign donation to them  “in an amount that would raise a reasonable concern” about fairness or impartiality, reports a Tribune Review article. 

“We know that’s a place where you can step on a land mine if you’re not very careful,” Pennsylvania Chief Justice Ronald Castille told the newspaper.

Because judicial campaign costs may vary widely in different parts of the state, vague rather than specific campaign contribution limits to trigger a judge’s disqualification accommodate the range, Justice Castille said.

Earlier this year, a Center for American Progress analysis gave only eight of 39 states where judges are elected  passing grades  for adequately addressing the potential conflicts of interest that accompany high spending judicial elections. You can read about it by clicking here for Gavel Grab, and you can learn more about judicial recusal from Justice at Stake’s web page about it.

 

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Palestinian-American Defendant Seeks Recusal by U.S. Judge

Defense lawyers for Rasmea Odeh, a Palestinian-American woman charged with immigration fraud, have asked that U.S. District Court Judge Paul Borman of Detroit recuse himself from the case because of his extensive work to build support for Israel.

According to a Politico article, Odeh is accused of concealing the almost 10 years she served in an Israeli prison after her conviction in two bombings in Jerusalem, nearly 50 years ago. She says she was raped and tortured at the hands of Israeli officials and soldiers, and the U.S. legal system should not take notice of her conviction before an Israeli military court.

Her defense lawyers maintained about the judge, “Clearly, one who has been a life-long supporter and promoter of Israel and has deep ties to the State of Israel spanning over 50 years, who no doubts believes that Israeli is a great democracy and protector of human rights, cannot be ‘reasonably’ said to be impartial when these claims of torture and illegality are raised by a Palestinian defendant.”

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Two Justices Decline to Recuse in High-Profile S.C. Case

south-carolina-flagThe South Carolina Supreme Court heard arguments on Tuesday in a high-profile case involving  the powerful House speaker. Two justices who had been asked by a watchdog group to recuse themselves did not do so, according to The Post and Courier.

In the oral arguments, a lawyer representing Attorney General John Wilson asked the court to set aside a state judge’s decision directing Wilson to halt a criminal investigation of House Speaker Bobby Harrell.

Supreme Court Chief Justice Jean Toal, who won re-election as chief justice by the legislature this year, was actively supported by Harrell’s electioneering. The executive director of Common Cause of South Carolina asked earlier that both Chief Justice Toal and her opponent, Associate Justice Constance Pleicones, consider recusing themselves (see Gavel Grab). Read more

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