Gavel Grab

Archive for the 'Recusal' Category

Article: Judges Part of 'An Ethical Mess in South Carolina'

SC-Supreme-Court-Charlotte-North-Carolina-Family-Law-Divorce-Separation-Child-Support-Alimony-Lawyer-AttorneyThe South Carolina Supreme Court will hear oral arguments next week in a closely watched case. Attorney General John Wilson is asking the court to set aside a state judge’s decision directing Wilson to halt a criminal investigation of House Speaker Bobby Harrell.

There is a potential appearance of a conflict of interest in the proceeding, according to some observers, because 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 has asked that both Chief Justice Toal and her opponent, Associate Justice Constance Pleicones, consider recusing themselves.

The Center for Public Integrity published a lengthy article this week examining the entire matter, headlined “An ethical mess in South Carolina.”  It noted, “South Carolina is the only state other than Virginia with a system by which state lawmakers alone elect state court judges, including members of the Supreme Court.” Read more

No comments

In Oil Spill Litigation, Concerns About Justices and Sons

News media in Louisiana are reporting that two U.S. Supreme Court justices have sons who work at Gibson Dunn, the law firm representing BP in litigation over the Gulf of Mexico oil spill. One outlet, The Times-Picayune, says there are some calls for the justices to step aside from hearing any related proceedings in order to prevent an appearance of partiality.

GOMSpill_Hdr_ArtLast week, a federal appeals court ordered that business claims against BP may proceed while BP awaits action by the high court on its appeal of Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling. The appeals court had said that to win payment, it is not necessary for claimants to prove the oil spill harmed them directly. BP is asking reversal of the appeals court ruling.

Justices Samuel Alito and Antonin Scalia each has a son who works at Gibson Dunn, reported.

No comments

Federal Judge Says He Was 'Inexcusably Careless,' Apologizes

Chief Judge Randall R. Rader of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, who resigned last week his position at the court’s helm (see Gavel Grab), has apologized for conduct that “crossed the ethics lines.” He wrote an endorsement of the skills of a lawyer who appeared before him. Read more

No comments

After Recusal Disclosure, Chief Judge Steps Down

Judge Rader

Judge Rader

Chief Judge Randall R. Rader of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit has resigned his position at the court’s helm, while he will remain on its bench, the Wall Street Journal reported on Friday.

The judge’s action came after the newspaper reported that Judge Rader recused himself from two patent cases after having endorsed an attorney participating in them.

Judge Rader’s recusal came after the court had acted in the cases. Subsequently, the court “disclosed that he was now recused and reissued an opinion in one case and a judicial order in another,” according to the Journal.

The resignation will take effect May 30.

No comments

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:

No comments

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

No comments

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.

No comments

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

No comments

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.”

No comments

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

No comments

« Previous PageNext Page »