Gavel Grab

Critical TV Ad in Ohio Court Race Draws Bar Rebuke

A TV ad in advance of the Ohio Supreme Court election, aired by Common Pleas Judge John P. O’Donnell, accuses incumbent Justice Judith L. French of being “in the pocket of big utilities,” referring to campaign contributions and her decision in a rate case.

A panel of the Ohio State Bar Association found Judge O’Donnell violated a “clean campaign pledge” and the ad’s depictions “falsely imply that justice is for sale in Ohio.” The Bar asked him to pull the ad.

The Bar’s action was reported by the Northeast Ohio Media Group. Justice French said about her opponent, according to the Columbus Dispatch, “Judges should be held to the highest standard. It’s concerning that he has gone negative and broken his promise to the voters and to his colleagues.” 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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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,” 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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'Arms Race' for Judicial Election Spending in Michigan: JAS

gavel_cash_20121102165220_320_240Michigan is shaping up as a major battleground for three contested seats on its state Supreme Court. Spending on TV advertising airtime has climbed to $1.2 million, as the state GOP began airing an ad promoting its nominees, Justice at Stake and the Brennan Center for Justice reported.

The sums spent on TV advertising so far are the highest for any state supreme court election, the groups said in a joint statement on Friday. Judicial candidates have spent nearly $990,000, and the state GOP TV ad campaign has cost an estimated $244,720.

“It’s troubling that spending in Michigan’s Supreme Court race is again on track to reach astronomical proportions,” said JAS Executive Director Bert Brandenburg. “Michigan has become a national symbol of an arms race that is putting pressure on judges to answer to political pressure instead of the law and the constitution.” Read more

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Editorial: Get Money Out of State High Court Races

michigan supreme corut

“Justices should be appointed by the governor from a list of candidates proposed by a blue-ribbon, non-partisan committee and then face confirmation by public vote,” opines an editorial on the Holland (Michigan) Sentinel.

The editorial revisits the problems in the current method of electing Michigan Supreme Court justices: campaign fundraising, partisanship, and “dark money,” coming from undisclosed contributors.

Michigan had the most costly state Supreme Court race of 2012, with campaign donations totaling $3.4 million and “dark money” spending that totaled $13.85 million. So far this year, the spending has been much less; candidates had spent $690,000 by the end of September to book TV ad time, the editorial says in relying on Justice at Stake data.

Read more

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Local Commissioner: Michigan Facing Crisis in the Courts

County courts in Michigan are short millions of dollars after the Michigan Supreme Court ruled that courts could not make defendants bear part of the costs of trials, writes Allegan County Commissioner Jon Campbell in a Grand Haven Tribune op-ed. Courts can only impose fees that are authorized by the legislature.

These courts have been limited in their function since the ruling was passed down in June and are waiting for the Legislature to identify new funding sources (unlikely in an election year) or restore authority to implement “user fees.” Campbell, who urges quick action by legislators in order to avert a crisis, is incoming president of the Michigan Association of Counties.

If the courts aren’t sufficiently funded, citizens could see long delays and large backlogs of cases, limiting their access to justice.

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Ideology Battle Avoided in MI Supreme Court Race?

An expected heated battle among Democrats surrounding a Michigan Supreme Court nominee was avoided at this weekend’s convention.

Commentary in the Toledo Blade said, “a threatened revolt among Democrats over a potential state Supreme Court nominee fizzled even more weakly. Nobody doubted that William Murphy, the Michigan Court of Appeals chief judge, has the legal credentials and experience to serve on the high court.”

The anticipated trouble stemmed from the judge’s personal opposition to abortion. Justice Murphy sent a letter stating his personal views do not affect his application of the law.

“I am by the very definition a ‘rule of law’ judge,” he said. “I promise to uphold the law of the land. The law of the land is Roe vs. Wade,” the 1973 decision that women have the right to an abortion.

Judge Murphy added: “It is not the place of any judge to rule based on ideology, but [instead] to be guided by the U.S. Constitution and the precedents established by the United States Supreme Court.”

Three Supreme Court seats will be contested this November.

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Michigan Nominees for Supreme Court Are Chosen

Both political parties have nominated their candidates for three seats on the Michigan Supreme Court, kicking off the general election season. One Democratic nominee saw controversy over his endorsement by Right to Life of Michigan in 1996.

Court of Appeals Judge William Murphy was nominated by the state Democrats on Saturday, amid controversy. On Sunday, there was a successful motion to reconsider his nomination, then he prevailed again on a floor vote, according to a article.

On Saturday, Judge Murphy said after his nomination, according to another article, “Anyone who becomes a judge, you come with your personal background and beliefs.” He added, “But once I put on the robe, my personal or religious beliefs do not control. What controls is the law. I am, have been, and will be a rule of law judge.”

The Democrats also nominated Wayne County Circuit Judge Deborah Thomas and Detroit attorney Richard Bernstein. Republicans nominated incumbent Justices David Viviano and Brian Zahra and Kent County Circuit Court Judge James Robert Redford. The candidates for Supreme Court will appear on a non-partisan section of the ballot.

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Will MI Party Convention See Sparks Over Judge Nomination?

Michigan_quarter,_reverse_side,_2004Will there be political sparks when Michigan Democrats hold a convention this weekend to nominate state Supreme Court candidates, among others? A Detroit News article suggests that possibility.

The “apparent anti-abortion position” of Court of Appeals Chief Judge William Murphy, who wants to serve on the Supreme Court, has generated opposition in Democrats’ pro-abortion rights circles, the newspaper said.

Judge Murphy told the Detroit News about abortion,“I don’t go about expressing my views on this issue or others.” He said, “I don’t think it’s appropriate for me or any other judge to commit to a position on any issue.” In an unsuccessful bid for the high court in 1996, he was endorsed by  Right to Life of Michigan. Read more

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Two Michigan Justices Each Raise $500K

According to an article by the Associated Press published on 9 and 10 News’ website, two incumbents on the Michigan Supreme Court have each raised approximately $500,000 for their respective upcoming November elections.

One of the justices, David Viviano, is running to serve out the remaining two years of Diane Hathaway’s term after she resigned during an investigation for criminal mortgage fraud.

The other, Brian Zahra, is seeking a full eight-year term.

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