N.C. Judge Recuses in Case That Involves His Reelection Bid

Justice Robert Edmunds of the North Carolina Supreme Court has recused himself from participating in hearing a case involving his own reelection, according to Election Law Blog.

A Superior Court panel recently voided a new law giving elected N.C. Supreme Court justices an option to seek a new term in a retention, rather than contested, election (see Gavel Grab). The state’s elections board has asked for review of that ruling by the Supreme Court, and an expedited hearing was set for April 13.

Edmunds had planned to run for retention under the new law and more recently indicated his intention to run in a contested election. The challenge to the state law was brought by plaintiffs including an attorney who has intended to oppose Edmunds in event of a contested election. (more…)

Journal Has Proceedings From Event on Caperton and Judicial Recusal

justice-scalesThe proceedings of a symposium about judicial recusal, five years after the Supreme Court’s landmark Caperton v. Massey ruling in 2009, and related scholarly articles are now available online from a periodical that collaborated in holding the event.

The NYU Journal of Legislation and Public Policy joined with the Brennan Center for Justice and the the American Bar Association Center for Professional Responsibility in bringing together speakers for the 2014 session, and the Journal has published the proceedings and related articles, according to Election Law blog.

Here are the symposium events and speakers: Opening Remarks by Wendy Weiser; “Caperton and the Courts: Did the Floodgates Open?” with Adam Liptak, Keith Swisher, James Sample and Bradley A. Smith; “The State of Recusal Reform,” with Charles Geyh, Myles Lynk, Robert S. Peck and The Honorable Toni Clarke; “A View (more…)

TV Ad Contracts Purchased by WI Court Candidates

In Wisconsin, both incumbent Justice Rebecca Bradley and Court of Appeals Judge JoAnne Kloppenburg have purchased their first TV advertising contracts in the general election for the state Supreme Court, according to The Associated Press.

The race is heating up, the AP said, and the candidates were scheduled to debate on Tuesday night.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, meanwhile, explored Kloppenburg’s view that judges need not step aside from hearing cases involving groups that have spent money in opposition to their election, but only if the groups have spent money in support of their election. Kloppenburg has voiced support for stronger judicial recusal rules in Wisconsin.

Appeal Request Cites Karmeier’s Refusal to Recuse

The St. Louis law firm of lawyer Stephen Tillery has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to hear an appeal and find that Illinois Supreme Court Justice Lloyd Karmeier improperly declined to recuse himself from a multi-billion dollar anti-tobacco case, according to a column by Jim Dey in The News-Gazette.

There is a long courtroom and judicial election saga involving the case. Last year, the Illinois Supreme Court ruled as it had before in favor of tobacco company Philip Morris, sparing it a $10.1 billion judgment, and Justice Karmeier voted in the 4-2 majority (see Gavel Grab).

In papers filed with the U.S. Supreme Court, the Tillery law firm asks “whether it violates the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment for a judge to participate in a case where the judge has made pejorative public statements about a litigant or an attorney, and there exists a reasonable public perception that one of the parties (Philip Morris) funded the judge’s election campaign.” (more…)

Ruling on North Carolina Retention Election Option is Challenged

North Carolina’s Board of Elections has asked the state Supreme Court to throw out a lower court ruling that involved how justices are elected.

A Superior Court panel recently voided a new law giving elected Supreme Court justices an option to seek a new term in a retention, rather than contested, election (see Gavel Grab). Now the elections board has asked for review of that ruling, and an expedited hearing was set for April 13, according to a News & Observer blog.

Carolina Public Press, which describes itself as an independent, investigative reporting outlet, quoted some observers as suggesting conflict of interest questions are raised by the newest case.

Among justices on the high court is Robert Edmunds Jr., who had intended to run in a retention (up-or-down) election under the new law.

Commentaries Take Issue With Judge’s Decision Not to Recuse

Two opinion pieces in the Allentown Morning Call and Penn Live take issue with then-Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice Ron Castille’s decision not to recuse himself in a capital case, which is also the subject of the Williams v. Pennsylvania case (see Gavel Grab).  The U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the case on Monday.

In the Allentown Morning Call Brianne Gorod, Chief Counsel of the Constitutional Accountability Center of Washington, D.C, argues that Castille’s role in the Williams case was a “clear violation of the constitution.” She writes, “Williams asked that Castille recuse himself, but Castille refused. By doing so, Castille created a judicial conflict so extreme that it violated the Constitution’s guarantee of an impartial justice system.” Castille had run the Philadelphia District Attorney’s office when Williams was prosecuted and sentenced to die.

She concludes that “whether the American people trust in our justice system depends, in significant part, on whether they can trust the judges who make up that justice system to be impartial.” (more…)

NY Times: ‘Much Broader Problem of Elected Judges’ Persists

VOTEREven if the Supreme Court rules for the accused in a case before it involving a death sentence, an elected judge and recusal, “that will not fix the much broader problem of elected judges,” a New York Times editorial warned.

The editorial discussed the case of Williams v. Pennsylvania, argued on Monday before the high court. Justice at Stake joined an amicus brief in the case, issued a statement (click here for Gavel Grab) and wrote a US News & World Report commentary (click here). The Times editorial was headlined, “Should a Judge Rule on His Own Case?” Echoing concerns raised by JAS, it went on to say:

“Studies have found that when judges must convince voters to put them on the bench, criminal defendants are among the biggest losers. Elected judges hand out longer sentences the closer they are to re-election and are less than half as likely as appointed judges to reverse death sentences. Even the number of judicial-campaign ads on television has an effect: The more there are, the less likely judges are to rule in favor of criminal defendants.”


SCOTUS to Hear Case Next Week About Judicial Recusal

The Supreme Court will hear arguments on Feb. 29 in Williams v. Pennsylvania, a case involving an elected Pennsylvania judge who campaigned for office as tough on crime, and the case gets an extensive preview this week at SCOTUSblog.

Justice at Stake and the Brennan Center for Justice have filed an amicus brief in the case (see Gavel Grab). The brief states that Terrance Williams was denied his due process rights when then-Chief Justice Ronald Castille of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, who had campaigned for office on tough-on-crime themes, declined Williams’ request to step aside from hearing an appeal in his death penalty case. Williams’ case was one Castille’s office had prosecuted when Castille served as Philadelphia’s District Attorney.

The SCOTUSblog preview is headlined, “When must a prosecutor-turned-judge recuse from a capital case?” It is written by Richard M. Re, who contrasts and compares issues in the case with the Supreme Court’s landmark 2009 ruling in Caperton v. Massey about runaway spending in judicial elections and judicial recusal. (more…)

Law360 Explores Judge’s Lawsuit, Quotes Justice at Stake

gavel-cash vertA Louisiana judge’s unusual lawsuit against four fellow jurists, alleging they illegally forced his recusal from two environmental cases as a result of campaign donations, “represents a new battlefront in an ongoing war over judicial elections, political free speech and campaign money,” Law360 reports. The article quotes Justice at Stake.

“It was really only a matter of time, given the way the courts have been looking at judges, that you would see this kind of clash between free speech, First Amendment issues … and the right to due process,” Scott Greytak, JAS senior policy counsel, said. “This is just an extreme example of those two constitutional values ramming into each other, and it’s a problem that wouldn’t even be possible in about half the states, which don’t have Supreme Court elections.”

Justice Jefferson Hughes III of the Louisiana Supreme Court contends his colleagues  effectively put “unconstitutional limits on the amount of money a person can contribute to a political action committee” (see Gavel Grab). (more…)

$50 Campaign Donation Threshold in WA Recusal Proposal

Under a proposal in the Washington legislature last year, a state Supreme Court justice would have to step aside from a case if a litigant has given $1,000 or more to his or her election campaign in the past six years. Now, a new proposal apparently modifies the old one, according to Gavel to Gavel.

The new proposal would require disciplining of a judge if he or she fails to step aside upon learning that a party, attorney, or law firm donated $50 in the past three years to elect the judge. Judges would be required to disclose any $50 contributions made by these parties.

The original proposal came in the wake of two high-profile Supreme Court rulings that favored teachers unions (see Gavel Grab). Gavel to Gavel is a publication of the National Center for State Courts, a Justice at Stake partner organization.