Wall Street Journal Editorial Opposes Wisconsin Recusal Motion

A special prosecutor’s recusal request before the Wisconsin Supreme Court has garnered national attention, including a supportive New York Times editorial (see Gavel Grab) and a Brennan Center for Justice amicus brief. Now a Wall Street Journal editorial argues against recusal.

The editorial is entitled, “The Left’s Recusal Gambit: A prosecutor and his allies try to rig a judicial appeal in Wisconsin.” (It is searchable through Google). The editorial’s authors say they reviewed the motion that one or more Wisconsin Supreme Court justices recuse themselves from hearing challenges to a campaign finance investigation. Four justices are reported to have benefited from multimillion-dollar spending by three groups involved in the cases. (more…)

Op-Ed: N.C. Should Not Implement Partisan Judicial Elections

North Carolina is poised to become the ninth state to elect judges through partisan elections, according to an op-ed on newsobserver.com.

This proposal is the latest move to reverse reforms passed in 2002, which included nonpartisan elections and a public financing program. “The public financing program gave candidates a few hundred thousand dollars to campaign, if they qualified by raising small donations. The 2002 bill was a bipartisan effort, and judges across the ideological spectrum lauded public financing,” the op-ed notes. Last year, the legislature repealed the public financing measure, and the appellate court campaigns spent nearly $5 million together.


Maryland Considers Retention Elections for Trial Judges

Thomas V. Mike Miller

Maryland Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller wants to put an end to contested elections for the state’s circuit court judges. The Baltimore Sun reports he has called to replace them with retention (up-or-down) elections.

The judges, who preside over Maryland’s more serious criminal and civil cases, are appointed by the governor for a 15-year term, subject to Senate approval. When that initial term is up, the judges must run in “the next possible election,” the article explains. The judges usually run in (and win) both parties’ primary elections, but sometimes a challenger will win one primary, forcing a general election. Miller called this system, when judges are forced to raise money for electoral campaigns, “very unseemly,” and many of his colleagues agree.


Virginia Judge Orders New Trial in Caperton Case

Hugh Caperton

A case that went all the way to the Supreme Court and brought about new recusal rules in West Virginia is headed for another trial to determine damages.

According to The Wall Street Journal, A Virginia judge has determined that a new trial is warranted in the case that Hugh Caperton brought against Massey Energy Co. Caperton first sued Massey in 1998 alleging that then-Chief Executive Don Blankenship directed company officials to illegally break a coal-supply contract and take other action that forced Caperton’s company, Harman Mining Corp., into bankruptcy.


W.Va. Judicial Ethics Report Eyed Through Lens of ‘Caperton’

An ABC News report questioning the ethics of a West Virginia Supreme Court justice (see Gavel Grab) continues to generate debate. Now an assistant law professor suggests the state could take a leadership role on judicial ethics questions.

“Because the West Virginia Supreme Court is sort of in the spotlight and has been with a number of years with the issue of canons requiring to recuse or disclose when there is an appearance of impropriety, West Virginia is in position to take a leadership role on these questions of judicial ethics,” Kendra Huard Fershee of the West Virginia University College of Law told the Charleston Daily Mail. (more…)

Blankenship, Key Figure in ‘Caperton,’ Indicted in Mine Explosion

Blankenship in file photo

Don Blankenship, the former CEO of Massey Energy whose big spending to elect a top West Virginia  judge led to a landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision, was charged on Thursday “with widespread violations of safety rules and deceiving federal inspectors,” according to the New York Times. 

Blankenship was indicted in connection with a 2010 explosion at the Upper Big Branch coal mine that killed 29 men.

Blankenship’s political spending became a poster case for judicial reform advocates when the U.S. Supreme Court issued a landmark decision in 2009 in Caperton v. Massey (see Gavel Grab for background). (more…)

JAS: Five Years Later, Message of 'Caperton' Even Stronger

On June 8, 2009, the Supreme Court delivered its landmark Caperton v. Massey decision about the threat to impartial courts posed by runaway judicial election spending. On Friday, marking the ruling’s upcoming fifth anniversary, Justice at Stake Executive Director Bert Brandenburg said Caperton’s message “has only grown stronger”:

“Since Caperton was decided in 2009, a crisis of confidence in the judiciary has escalated, not receded. In Caperton, the Supreme Court of the United States prodded states that elect judges to do something about the threat to justice posed by special interest spending that can influence decisions in the courtroom. Yet since then, too few states have enacted or even considered meaningful measures to keep cash out of the courtroom. (more…)

Jury Awards $5 Million in Contract Dispute Involving Caperton

A detour in this long-running legal dispute brought Hugh Caperton a landmark 2009 U.S. Supreme Court decision about runaway judicial election spending and impartial courts. Now Caperton, Harman Mining and two related companies have won a $5 million jury verdict in their legal struggle with Massey Energy over a contract for supplying coal.

A jury in Buchanan County, Va. has awarded Harman Mining and the two other companies $4 million in damages and Caperton, $1 million for personal financial damages, the Associated Press reported. The total was far less than the $90 million sum the plaintiffs sought, according to the Wall Street Journal. (more…)

Trial Date Ahead in New Caperton Round Against Massey


Hugh Caperton, plaintiff in a landmark 2009 Supreme Court decision about runaway judicial election spending and impartial courts, may square off in a Grundy, Va. courtroom later this month with the former A.T. Massey Coal Company, with whom Caperton has had a long-running dispute.

Caperton’s 2010 lawsuit accuses Massey of “attempting to buy justice” in  West Virginia’s highest court. A year ago, the Virginia Supreme Court said Caperton and his coal companies could proceed with the lawsuit in Virginia (see Gavel Grab for background).

In  Caperton v. Massey, the U.S. Supreme Court declared that judicial campaign spending can damage a litigant’s right to a fair trial. It required a West Virginia Supreme Court justice to disqualify himself from an appeal involving then-Massey Chief Executive Officer Don Blankenship, a major campaign spender in support of the justice.

A jury trial in Virginia is set for April 21, according to the West Virginia Gazette. (more…)

Recusal of High Court Justice Sought Again in North Carolina

Plaintiffs in a legislative and congressional redistricting case in North Carolina are asking for state Supreme Court Justice Paul Newby (photo) to step aside from participating in it. They cite a Republican group’s giving $1.2 million in support of Justice Newby in his reelection contest last year.

A similar recusal motion was filed last year and was rejected by the state Supreme Court in December (see Gavel Grab). The latest filing contends that his recusal is more urgent given the court is getting ready to hear an appeal that involves arguments over the redistricting plans’ constitutionality, the Raleigh News & Observer reported. The earlier recusal motion came in a related legal matter; subsequently a lower court found the redistricting plans to be not unconstitutional.

Plaintiffs are contending now, regarding $1.2 million given in support of Justice Newby by the Republican State Leadership Committee, that unless the jurist steps aside, “he will rule on the validity of redistricting plans that were drawn, endorsed, and embraced by the principal funder of a committee supporting his campaign for re-election.” (more…)