Gavel Grab

Archive for the 'Recusal' Category

N.M. Lawsuit Over Judicial Pay Veto Raises Questions

Numerous questions are raised by a newly filed lawsuit  against New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez, challenging her veto of a budget provision to provide judges an 8 percent raise, according to news media accounts.

The lawsuit was filed by individual judges, two state senators, and groups representing state judges. It contends that the legislature, not the governor, has the right to set judicial salaries, according to a New Mexico Watchdog report.

That publication quotes Enrique Knell, a spokesman for the Martinez administration, as saying New Mexico Chief Justice Petra Jimenez Maes lobbied the governor’s office to advocate for the judicial raises. Read more

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Arkansas Case Raises Issues of Judicial Race Funding and Corruption

Gavel_and_moneyThe Arkansas Supreme Court, saying “the orderly administration of justice has been severely compromised, due, in part, to recusal issues” in a judicial circuit, reassigned the cases of a judge who is under investigation for campaign contributions he received earlier. The case is raising questions about corporate campaign spending and impartial justice.

The Arkansas high court also said it had been advised that court operations in the circuit had been disrupted, according to the Associated Press. Reassigned were cases on the docket of Circuit Judge Mike Maggio of Faulkner County.

Gavel Grab recently mentioned media reports that Judge Maggio was under investigation for a possible ethics breach in comments he made to a Louisiana State University fan website, and also in connection with campaign contributions made when he was a Court of Appeals candidate. He has withdrawn from that race.

The AP article said the contributions came from “political action committees linked to the owner of Greenbrier Nursing and Rehabilitation Center. Days after receiving the money in July, Maggio reduced a judgment against the nursing home in the death of a resident from $5.2 million to $1 million.” Read more

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IL Judge, Mulling Retention Bid, Dogged by Controversial Case

A lawsuit under way in Illinois contends that State Farm, the insurance company, funded a multimillion-dollar campaign a decade ago to elect a state Supreme Court justice. A publication that has followed the lawsuit says the justice, Lloyd Karmeier, will decide soon whether to seek retention this year, and the litigation reflects how “one of his most controversial cases just won’t stay dead.”

The Madison-St. Clair Record has an article about the lawsuit, Hale v. State Farm, that is headlined, “Lack of clear rules for recusal underpins high stakes case against State Farm.” Last summer, the Center for American Progress issued a lengthy report about the litigation and the underlying issues, entitled “Dodging a Billion-Dollar Verdict.”

As Gavel Grab mentioned in a 2011 article about a related legal proceeding, then-circuit Judge Karmeier  defeated Appellate Judge Gordon Maag in the 2004 Illinois election, when $9.3 million was raised in the most expensive state judicial campaign in U.S. history. Justice Karmeier later refused to recuse himself from hearing an appeal in a class-action lawsuit, Avery v. State Farm Mutual Automobile Ins. Co., despite questions raised that campaign backing from State Farm could taint his impartiality. Justice Karmeier voted in the majority to overturn a $1 billion award against the insurer. Read more

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JAS Cited in Article on New Judicial Recusal Rule in Pennsylvania

A new recusal rule for Pennsylvania judges who hear cases involving campaign contributors (see Gavel Grab) will take effect in July, an Allentown Morning Call article reports. In providing context for the rule, the article cites Justice at Stake and two of its partner organizations.

According to a poll commissioned last year by Justice at Stake and the Brennan Center for Justice, almost 90 percent of voters think judges’ decisions are  influenced to at least some extent by campaign donations, and more than 90 percent said judges should step aside when a party in a case before them has contributed directly or indirectly to a judge’s election campaign.

As Matthew Menendez of the Brennan Center put it, “Imagine that, God forbid, you get hit by a car and you’re badly hurt, and it turns out the driver is the biggest campaign contributor to the judge on that case.” He added, “Everyone should have confidence that they can receive a fair shake in court.” Read more

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Bill Would Rewrite Recusal Rules for Alabama Judges

justice-scalesAlabama has a law requiring judges to recuse themselves if their campaign got a least $2,000 from a party to a case. But the law has not been enforced due to a disagreement between the Alabama Attorney General’s Office and the Alabama Supreme Court, and in 2011, a federal court threw out a lawsuit that could have settled the issue (see Gavel Grab).

Now legislation has been proposed to repeal the existing law and replace it with a new one, according to Gavel to Gavel, a publication of the National Center for State Courts. The bill has these provisions, which are quoted from it:

  • Requiring a judge to step aside from hearing a case if, “as a result of a substantial campaign contribution or electioneering communication” by a party in the past election, “[a] reasonable person would perceive that the judge or justice’s ability to carry out his or her judicial responsibilities with impartiality is impaired.” Read more
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Conflict of Interest to Face Several Wisconsin Justices?

630px-Seal_of_WisconsinA potential conflict of interest may be ahead in a proceeding before several Wisconsin Supreme Court justices, yet they have no obligation under existing law to recuse themselves, Billy Corriher of the Center for American Progress writes in a ThinkProgress blog.

Corriher writes: “A criminal probe in Wisconsin targets several major spenders on state supreme court races. Yet the justices who benefited from that spending will likely get to decide whether this probe moves forward.” The secretive investigation focuses on GOP candidates in 2011 and 2012 Wisconsin recall elections and interest groups that backed them with spending.

The Wisconsin Club for Growth and Citizens for a Strong America are among targets of the investigation, according to the blog post. In 2011, they spent more than $1 million in support of incumbent Justice David Prosser who was seeking reelection, the post said, based on data from the Brennan Center for Justice. The Brennan Center is a JAS partner organization.

A Forbes blog post picked up on the ThinkProgress report and declared in its headline about judicial elections, “The Second Worst Idea in American Politics.”

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JAS, Partner Group Commend New Recusal Rule in Pennsylvania

Justice at Stake and one of its partner organizations, the Brennan Center for Justice, have written Pennsylvania Supreme Court Chief Justice Ronald Castille to applaud revisions in the newly adopted State Code of Judicial Conduct. Their letter focused on a new recusal rule for judges who hear cases involving campaign contributors.

The new canons say judges must step aside from cases involving campaign support — whether direct or independent – that would “raise a reasonable concern about the fairness or impartiality of the judge’s consideration of a case.” The rule says,  “In doing so, the judge should consider the public perception regarding such contributions and their effect on the judge’s ability to be fair and impartial.”

“More than ever, the public needs to be reassured that special interests cannot buy favorable treatment from the courts,” Matt Berg, deputy JAS director of state affairs, and Matthew Menendez, counsel at the Brennan Center, wrote in the letter. ”By strengthening its recusal rules, Pennsylvania’s court system has sent a powerful and positive message that its courts cannot be bought.”

 

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New Pennsylvania Judicial Recusal Rule Lauded by Editorial

A revised Code of Judicial Conduct in Pennsylvania, including a rule that was described as mandating judges’ recusal “in cases where litigants or lawyers have contributed heavily to the presiding judge’s election campaign,” has won editorial praise from the (Scranton) Times-Tribune newspaper.

“Ideally, that will be a precursor to merit selection of appellate judges,” the editorial said about the recusal rule. You can learn more about the rule from this earlier Gavel Grab post; Pennsylvania is considering legislation to switch from judicial elections to a merit selection system for picking top judges.

The editorial also highlighted a rule that opens Pennsylvania’s courts to proceedings that are televised. “The experience in a host of other jurisdictions shows that the technology has become unobtrusive, and that television coverage helps to educate the public about the least visible branch of government,” the editorial said. Read more

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Revised Pennsylvania Ethics Code Includes Judicial Recusal Rule

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has adopted revisions to the state’s Code of Judicial Conduct, dealing with various ethics issues including recusal, and nepotism and also banning judges’ serving on corporate boards. It was the first revision in more than 20 years, the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reported.

Regarding recusal, the new canons say judges must step aside from cases involving campaign donors whose contributions were of a sum that would “raise a reasonable concern” of partiality, according to The Morning Call. “In doing so,” the rule says, “the judge should consider the public perception regarding such contributions and their effect on the judge’s ability to be fair and impartial.”

The prior Code of Judicial Conduct did not appear to deal with judicial campaign contributions at all.

Read more

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CA Advisory Opinion Addresses Recusal, Aggregated Donations

The California Supreme Court Committee on Judicial Ethics Opinions has issued new guidance about judicial campaign contributions that may require disqualification of a judge.

Under California law, trial court judges are prohibited from hearing cases when one of the lawyers in the proceeding donated more than $1,500 to the judge’s campaign. In a formal opinion made available this week, the committee said judges must also consider whether aggregated contributions from a group of lawyers or a law firm might cause a reasonable person to doubt the judge’s impartiality and require disqualification.

According to a press release from the California judicial branch, it was “the first advisory opinion in the country to address aggregated and law firm contributions.”

Justice at Stakes works to support robust recusal rules and states on its website, “Stronger recusal rules are needed today, as unprecedented levels of campaign cash are being spent in state judicial elections by parties who appear in court. The U.S. Supreme Court declared, in Caperton v. Massey, that campaign spending can damage a litigant’s right to a fair trial. The court also has declared repeatedly that states may establish recusal rules tougher than required by the Constitution.”

Gavel Grab thanks Election Law Blog for highlighting the announcement.

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