Gavel Grab

Archive for the 'Recusal' Category

Ohio Editorial Urges Tougher Recusal Rules for Judges

Ohio_quarter,_reverse_side,_2002More robust judicial recusal rules are needed in Ohio, given the weak rules that currently exist to police an important line between campaign spending and judges’ conduct on the bench, a Toledo (Ohio) Blade editorial says.

“When lawyers, litigants, and other interest groups have financial stakes in how courts rule, it’s unreasonable to think they would not expect a return on the investments they make in the form of campaign aid,” the editorial explains. That’s why strong recusal rule are important, it says. As for the weakness of the current ethics rules, it cites excerpts of a recent Center for American Progress report (see Gavel Grab).

While Ohio would be better served if it switched from electing judges to a system of merit selection, the editorial says, prospects for that reform are not good. It suggests recusal and disclosure reforms that could help, and it concludes:

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Most States Get Failing Marks for Their Recusal Rules

justice-scalesOnly eight of 39 states where judges are elected got passing grades from a Center for American Progress analysis for adequately addressing the potential conflicts of interest that accompany high spending judicial elections.

The CAP brief was entitled, “State Judicial Ethics Rules Fail to Address Flood of Campaign Cash from Lawyers and Litigants.” It drew data about judicial election spending from “The New Politics of Judicial Elections 2011-12” by Justice at Stake and two partner organizations.

States that got passing grades were Arizona, 60; California, 75; Georgia, 70; Michigan, 70; Minnesota, 60; New York, 60; Utah, 65; and Washington, 65. The brief concluded:

“The results of this study should alarm anyone who cares about impartial justice. Given the exponential increase in campaign cash in recent decades, justices in state supreme courts across America are hearing more and more cases that involve their campaign contributors. Polls show that this is causing the public to doubt judicial impartiality. Read more

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Union donations and judicial recusal in Wisconsin

As the Wisconsin Supreme Court prepares to rule on a challenge to the state’s “Act 10,” which seeks to dismantle collective bargaining for most public workers, academics and interest groups are debating whether any of the justices should have to recuse themselves because they received campaign donations from public sector unions.

The Act, passed in 2011, was challenged by unions, who argue that its labor restrictions violated the state constitution.  A Circuit Court judge agreed in 2012, and the case is now under consideration by the Supreme Court.

Wisconsin’s rules requires judges to bow out of certain cases where their impartiality can be questioned.  The Journal Sentinel reported on calls for recusal, along with the opinions of some legal scholars who stated that the donations in question were so small in relation to overall campaign spending that they may not require recusal.

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Expert Opinion Divided on Possible Recusal by Wisconsin Judges

630px-Seal_of_WisconsinChallenges to a campaign finance investigation in Wisconsin are continuing to spur questions as to whether certain state Supreme Court justices ought to recuse themselves, and one of the state’s leading newspapers now has reported on the issue.

In the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, reporter Patrick Marley has written a news article headlined, “John Doe probe raises issues of potential conflicts with justices.” Marley interviewed legal ethics experts and found divided opinion as to whether one or more of the court’s four conservative justices ought to step aside.

The Wisconsin Club for Growth is one of the targets of the investigation, which is looking at possible illegal coordination between outside groups and recall campaigns (see Gavel Grab). In recent years the group has spent about $1.8 million in support of election of the four conservative justices. Read more

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JAS: ‘Strong System’ Needed to Identify Judicial Conflicts of Interest

It  is over the top for the federal court system to regularly have two dozen cases where judges have violated conflict of interest rules and acknowledged it, after the fact, Justice at Stake Executive Director Bert Brandenburg said.

jas_logoBrandenburg was commenting on findings of the Center for Public Integrity, issued earlier this week. The Center documented (see Gavel Grab) that in 26 cases since 2010, federal appellate judges issued rulings despite having a conflict of interest because they owned stock in a company in a case before them (24 judges) or had financial ties to a law firm in the case (two judges).

David Sellers, a spokesman for the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts, blamed human error for the mistakes, saying they were a tiny portion of 109,000 cases decided overall by federal appeals courts during the period that was studied. The judges take their ethical duties seriously, he said.

Brandenburg of JAS said, “There has to be a strong system in place to identify those conflicts in advance so the judges can step aside,” according to the Center’s report. “If that was a failure here, then there needs to be a strong look taken at the system.”

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Editorial: When Judicial Recusal is a Matter of Integrity

Gavel_and_moneyIf litigation involving two Wisconsin groups that are part of an ongoing campaign finance investigation reaches the state Supreme Court, justices who received campaign contributions from the groups ought to recuse themselves, an Appleton Post-Crescent editorial says.

Since 2007, the editorial explains, Wisconsin Club for Growth and Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce have donated $7.3 million to help elect four justices who make up the court’s conservative majority.

Wisconsin justices are not required by virtue of having received campaign donations to step aside from hearing cases involving the donors. In urging recusal, the editorial cites the large amount of campaign support extended to the justices, the role of Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce in writing the court’s existing recusal rule, and a landmark U.S. Supreme Court ruling in 2009 about runaway spending in judicial elections. Read more

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Debate: Should Scalia Recuse in ‘Buffer Zone’ Case?

Justice-Antonin-ScaliaThe newest debate about whether a Supreme Court justice should recuse from involvement in a case focuses on Justice Antonin Scalia. There are divergent opinions as to whether he should recuse from voting in a case challenging a Massachusetts law providing a 35-foot buffer zone around abortion clinics.

Justice Scalia’s wife, Maureen Scalia, has worked previously and “may still be working” for a crisis pregnancy organization with a direct interest in the case about buffer zones, which protect abortion clinic workers and patients, states Amanda Marcotte in a Slate blog. Her post is headlined, “Justice Scalia Should Recuse Himself From the Abortion Clinic Buffer Zone Case.”

A Salon essay by Lauren Rankin is entitled, “Scalia’s recusal dilemma: Is he conflicted on antiabortion ‘sidewalk counselors’?” It gives differing points of view on the topic, including that of law professor James Sample. He does not call on the justice to recuse but says “that he — and we — would be well served by an explanation of his decision not to recuse (or to recuse) similar to the way in which he explained his thinking vis-à-vis his contacts with Vice President Cheney” in the context of a case some years ago. Read more

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Four N.M. Justices Step Aside From Hearing Pay-Raise Case

NMJudiciaryAll but one of the five justices of the New Mexico Supreme Court have recused themselves from hearing a lawsuit that challenges Gov. Susana Martinez’s veto of a budget provision to provide judges an 8 percent raise.

The judge who did not recuse, Justice Richard Bosson, was named acting Chief Justice to preside over the case, and he will pick pro tem judges to hear it, according to an Albuquerque Journal article.

The lawsuit contends that the legislature, not the governor, has the right to set judicial salaries. New Mexico’s trial judges are the lowest-paid in the nation. For background about the lawsuit, see Gavel Grab.



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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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