Gavel Grab

Candidate Requests Recount in N.C. Supreme Court Race

It is official: lawyer Mike Robinson has requested a recount of votes in his challenge to North Carolina Supreme Court Justice Cheri Beasley, whom he trails.

According to the Associated Press, with nearly 2.5 million votes cast in North Carolina, Justice Beasley leads Robinson by about 5,400 votes.

In another close election, Illinois Justice Lloyd Karmeier sought retention and secured 60.68 percent of votes counted on election night, the Madison-St. Clair Record reported. He needed 60 percent to win a new term. Outstanding ballots are to be counted by Tuesday, and the newspaper quoted an election attorney it hired as saying she doubted a challenge to his retention will be mounted.

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Defender of Retained Judge Blasts Ouster Campaign as ‘Immoral’

Screen-shot-2014-10-22-at-1.30.33-PMA  costly campaign to unseat Illinois Supreme Court Justice Lloyd Karmeier, heavily financed by plaintiffs’ attorneys with litigation before his court, included harshly negative robocalls and printed matter, a newspaper reports.

Illlinois voters retained Justice Karmeier on Election Day. The Madison-St. Clair Record, quoting from an interview with the judge’s friend and defender state Sen. Dave Leuchtefeld, said one robocall involved a self-described “conservative” calling for the unseating of “liberal” Karmeier. There was printed matter distributed to Republican households likening the judge to such “corrupt” Democratic politicians as former Gov. Rod Blagojevich. Read more

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Challenger Likely to Seek Recount in N.C. Court Contest

Although Justice Cheri Beasley of the North Carolina Supreme Court has racked up more votes in an unofficial count than her challenger, attorney Mike Robinson, he intends to ask for a recount, the Associated Press reported.

Justice Beasley was leading by slightly more than 3,000 votes in the unofficial count, the AP said. She had 50.07 percent of the votes and Robinson 49.93 percent, according to the News & Observer, which noted that Justice Beasley was one of three candidates targeted by the Republican State Leadership Committee, all of whom “emerged as victors.” Read more

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Justice Karmeier Fends Off Anti-Retention Effort in Illinois

KARMEIERJustice Lloyd Karmeier has tentatively been retained for a new 10-year term on the Illinois Supreme Court after an expensive race, according to The Madison-St. Clair Record.

In order to be retained, a justice must receive at least 60 percent voter approval in a yes-or-no election. Karmeier is shown to have received 60.71 percent yes votes. Provisional ballots are still to be counted, but projections still foresee retention of Justice Karmeier.

TV ad spending for and against the retention of Justice Karmeier hit $1.7 million, a record for retention elections in Illinois. Campaign for 2016, a group heavily supported by trial lawyers, spent over $1.1 million against his retention, according to a Justice at Stake and Brennan Center for Justice analysis.  The Republican State Leadership Committee, a national political organization, spent over $960,000 on TV advertising and phone banking in support of Karmeier.

Read more

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Restore Public Financing for Judicial Campaigns: N.C. Opinion

NORTH-CAROLINA-FLAG-300x224The 2014 North Carolina Supreme Court election is unprecedented in the past 15 years for the raw political power and record big money involved, including more than $3 million raised by the candidates for four seats, writes an opinion columnist who urges a return to public financing of judicial campaigns.

“This is happening across the country,” adds Tim White in his Fayetteville Observer column. “Tens of millions of dollars are being poured into court contests as political influence groups try to buy judicial seats. And the very same people doing the pouring may someday later show up before the judges they helped buy. Those judges are human, and the possibility of money turning the tide of a crucial case is a chilling specter.”

North Carolina’s legislature killed the state’s public financing program for judicial campaigns last year. Now, White says, PAC money and advocacy groups’ “dark money” are flowing into the election contest, and the case for restoring public Read more

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JAS on Illinois Court Retention Election: ‘Here We Go Again’

Screen shot 2014-10-29 at 11.25.59 AMWith Illinois Supreme Court Justice Lloyd Karmeier facing opposition in his retention election from a group heavily funded by plaintiffs’ lawyers, the Republican State Leadership Committee has jumped into the race and spent $950,000 in support of Karmeier, the Chicago Tribune reported. (The article is available through Google.)

“Here we go again,” Justice at Stake Executive Director Bert Brandenburg told the Tribune. Illlinois again has become a battleground state in a “long-running war being fought between plaintiffs’ lawyers and big business” over high courts, the newspaper said, mentioning a record $9.3 million spent when Justice Karmeier was elected in 2004.

Screen shot 2014-10-29 at 11.29.10 AMThe contest has featured fierce advertising. A TV ad aired by Campaign for 2016, the opposition group, said that Justice Karmeier received millions from pro-business interests in 2004 then voted to strike down huge verdicts against State Farm and Philip Morris. “Our justice is not for sale,” the narrator said at its end. The RSLC-sponsored ad says the justice has been tough on violent criminals and stood up to “Chicago trial lawyers who have tried to buy the courts.” Read more

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Editorial: Is Justice ‘For Sale to the Highest Bidder’?

law-cash-21816475With millions of dollars from special interest groups pouring into state judicial elections, a USA Today editorial joins a growing media outcry deploring the current trends and urging reform.

“At best, the system no longer appears fair. At worst, justice is for sale to the highest bidder,” the editorial laments. “Until more join up” with adoption of public financing for judicial elections, as have New Mexico and and West Virginia, the editorial says, “anyone who goes to court will have to wonder whether the judge on the bench is handing down justice or repaying a favor.”

To back up its assertions about spending trends in judicial elections, the editorial linked to data compiled by Justice at Stake and partner organizations. Read more

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Report Digs Into ‘Secret Donations’ in Michigan High Court Race

In the countdown to Election Day, news media covering state judicial elections are finding plenty of contentious issues to examine, including the way judicial campaigns are funded and conducted:

  • WXYZ TV in Detroit aired an investigative piece entitled, “Politics, secret donations fuel Michigan Supreme Court races.” A bipartisan expert panel is urging reform that so high court candidates no longer go through the political parties to be elected, the newscast said, and some lawyers are trying to remove big spending out of the process. 
  • “The abortion issue has driven a partisan wedge in the otherwise non-partisan Supreme Court justice race in Northern Kentucky,” Cincinnati.com reported.
  • The Madison-St. Clair (Illinois) Record reported about an Illinois Supreme Court race, “Will Karmeier attack ads get through the ‘clutter?’ Observer says effect will be ‘minimal.'” Meanwhile the Southern Illinoisan reported, “Plaintiffs’ lawyers attack Justice Karmeier.”
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Illinois System for Choosing Judges 'Breaking Down': JAS

2003_IL_ProofWith independent spending against an Illinois Supreme Court justice rising in his retention election, Justice at Stake called attention to the situation and said, “The system for picking judges in Illinois is breaking down.”

Lloyd Karmeier’s 2004 fight against Gordon Maag for the Supreme Court set spending records at the time. Now Justice Karmeier is facing opposition in his retention bid from a group called Campaign for 2016. You can learn about the individuals funding it from earlier Gavel Grab posts.

“Interest groups are trying to buy courts, judges are raising money from parties who appear before them, and potential conflicts of interest are multiplying.  It’s no wonder that the public believes that justice is for sale,” JAS Executive Director Bert Brandenburg said in a statement on Thursday. Read more

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Karmeier Supporter Fires Back at Foes of Judge's Retention

Screen shot 2014-10-22 at 1.30.33 PMIllinois state Sen. Dave Leuchtefeld, a friend and supporter of Illinois Supreme Court Justice Lloyd Karmeier, said opposition to the justice’s retention has been headed up by plaintiffs’ attorneys who stand to benefit if the court rules their way in two class-action cases.

“For these attorneys, it’s just like putting money in the stock market. It’s an investment,” Leuchtefeld told the Belleville News-Democrat. Earlier this week, Gavel Grab mentioned TV advertising critical of Justice Karmeier aired by a group calling itself Campaign for 2016. According to the News-Democrat, “The anti-Karmeier commercial slams him for accepting campaign donations from businesses during his 2004 election campaign and ‘letting corporations buy justice.'” Read more

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