A prominent West Virginia attorney says the public has lost its faith in fair and impartial courts, but “[i]t doesn’t have to be that way,” Justice at Stake Executive Director Bert Brandenburg writes in a Charleston Gazette op-ed.
Brandenburg spotlights West Virginia’s adoption this year of a permanent law for the public financing of judicial elections, after he mentions an earlier instance of runaway campaign spending that “gave the courts a black eye in West Virginia and beyond” and resulted in a landmark U.S. Supreme Court ruling, Caperton v. Massey:
“Public financing isn’t perfect, and it doesn’t fix every problem with judicial elections. But it does at least one very important thing: It allows judicial candidates to opt in to a system that protects them from having to solicit money from the same lawyers, businesses and other parties who may appear before them in court.
“This means judges and other candidates who accept public financing can spend their time during campaigns talking to West Virginia’s citizens, not big spenders. It means they don’t have to ‘dial for dollars’ from parties who will appear before them. Ultimately, it should mean a greater level of protection for every American’s right to a fair day in court.”
Brandenburg concludes on an optimistic note. He says the outspoken attorney, Bruce Stanley, “is right to say money in judicial elections destroys public confidence. But with a solution now in place that’s a model for the nation, West Virginia can be the first to win that confidence back.”