Gavel Grab

Archive for the 'Recusal' Category

Wisconsin Supreme Court to Hear Cases in Campaign Finance Probe

Seal_of_the_Supreme_Court_of_Wisconsin.svgThe Wisconsin Supreme Court has voted 6-0 to take up three cases involved with a state campaign finance investigation, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

The Wisconsin Club for Growth is one of the groups at the center of the investigation, which is looking at possible illegal coordination between outside groups and recall campaigns. In recent years the Wisconsin Club for Growth has spent about $1.8 million in support of election of four conservative justices on the court, and some experts have called for them to recuse from hearing the cases, but there has not been unanimity of opinion (see Gavel Grab).

According to the Wisconsin State Journal, when spending by two other groups targeted in the investigation is added to the sum spent by Wisconsin Club for Growth, it climbs to $8 million in support of the four justice over seven years. Read more

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Commentary Defends West Virginia Chief Justice Davis

justiceDavisAfter an ABC news report questioning the ethics of a West Virginia Supreme Court justice (see Gavel Grab), at least one local commentator has leapt to the justice’s defense.

At Metro News of West Virginia, Talkline Host Hoppy Kercheval has a column saying “ABC aims, but misses on Justice Robin Davis.”

ABC News said a plaintiff’s attorney, Michael Fuller, purchased a jet airplane from the husband of Chief Justice Davis and contributed to, and worked so that others would give to, her 2012 re-election campaign. The chief justice said she was not involved in the transaction, she did not know who the donors were, and there was no reason for her to recuse, according to the Associated Press.

Kercheval points out that under the judicial ethics code of West Virginia, judicial candidates cannot “even know who has donated to them”; that Davis and her husband are wealthy and could have written a check to her campaign for the $35,000 Read more

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Lawyers Tried to Defeat Judge, Now They Seek to Depose Him

Lawyers who contributed thousands of dollars for an unsuccessful effort to deny retention to Illinois Supreme Court Justice Lloyd Karmeier now are trying to depose him in the context of a racketeering lawsuit. Justice Karmeier says they don’t have the authority to question him under oath.

The Madison-St. Clair (Il.) Record provided that update in the wake of Justice Karmeier’s Election Day retention victory, after a group funded heavily by plaintiffs lawyers spent more than $1.1 million to oppose his retention.

The racketeering lawsuit contends that State Farm, the insurance company, funded a multimillion-dollar campaign a decade ago to elect Karmeier to the Supreme Court. The lawsuit is called Hale v. State Farm. Read more

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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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