Sunday, October 01, 2006

Justice For $ale


Justice For $ale

“Thirty-nine states elect judges, and 30 states are holding elections for seats on their highest courts this year. Spending in these races is skyrocketing, with some judges raising $2 million or more for a single campaign. As the amounts rise, questions about whether money is polluting the independence of the judiciary are being fiercely debated across the nation. And nowhere is the battle for judicial seats more ferocious than in Ohio. An examination of the Ohio Supreme Court by The New York Times found that its justices routinely sat on cases after receiving campaign contributions from the parties involved or from groups that filed supporting briefs. On average, they voted in favor of contributors 70 percent of the time. Justice O’Donnell voted for his contributors 91 percent of the time, the highest rate of any justice on the court. In the 12 years that were studied, the justices almost never disqualified themselves from hearing their contributors’ cases. In the 215 cases with the most direct potential conflicts of interest, justices recused themselves just 9 times.” Campaign Cash Mirrors a High Court’s Rulings http://www.nytimes.com/2006/10/01/us/01judges.html?_r=1&th&emc=th&oref=slogin

A report in today’s New York Times looks at apparent corruption in the Ohio Supreme Court where justices accept monies from political action committees representing litigants with cases before the Ohio Supreme Court and in the overwhelming number of cases the justices did not recuse themselves from hearing the cases and in fact sided with the parties that contributed the money! This coming from a state that was pivotal in the 2004 presidential that gave the election to George W Bu$h. In AmeriKKKa the exorbitant costs of elections and the fact candidates, political parties and operatives are forced to raise millions of dollars just to be competitive undermines the integrity of the election process. It is not always the brightest person, the candidate with the best platform or ideas that wins. All too often it is the candidate that has the largest war chest, who has raised the most money, hired the best “consultants” and made the most inside connections who wins. It is exactly this process and the fact high court justices are often beholden to their political benefactors that gave us George W Bu$h! The notion that AmeriKKKa is a country “of the people for the people and by the people” is a cruel myth. As the Times article points out AmeriKKKa is a country where money talks while everything else walks including morality and ethics. “Judges are required by codes of judicial ethics to disqualify themselves whenever their impartiality might reasonably be questioned over financial or other conflicts. Even owning a few shares of stock in a defendant’s company or seeing a relative’s name on a brief generally requires automatic disqualification. But there is an exception to this strict rule: campaign contributions. Very few judges in the states that elect the members of their highest court view contributions as a reason for disqualification when those contributors appear before them. Many judges said contributions were so common that recusal would wreak havoc on the system. The standard in the Ohio Supreme Court, its chief justice, Thomas J. Moyer, said, is to recuse only if ‘sitting on the case is going to be perceived as just totally unfair.’” What does “totally unfair” mean in a system where there are already color and class biases inherent in the judicial process? What does ‘totally unfair” mean when the masses unfamiliar with the way the system works go to court seeking justice and fairness but are opposed by lawyers and litigants who have made contributions to the campaigns not only of Supreme Court justices but a plethora of lower court judges as well? Where is the fairness and lack of bias in that? “Indeed, according to a survey of 2,428 state court judges conducted in 2002 by Justice at Stake, a judicial reform organization, almost half said campaign contributions influenced decisions. And more than half agreed that ‘judges should be prohibited from presiding over and ruling in cases where one of the sides has given money to their campaign.’”
In most cases where judges are elected by popular vote lawyers tend to be major contributors to their election campaigns. This insures favorable treatment if they appear before the judge after he or she is elected. Often the lawyers contribute because they know the candidate personally but in most cases it is purely a business decision. Now according to the New York Times the trend has changed, “The study looked at contributors who gave $1,000 or more in the six years preceding the decision, the term length for justices. It also considered, for the most part, only the contributors most directly affected by a ruling: the parties themselves and groups that filed supporting briefs urging the court to rule a certain way. Contributions from lawyers were excluded from the study’s main findings. Lawyers are far more likely than other contributors to give to judges across the ideological spectrum, and — because their firms often handle a wide variety of cases — they generally do not have the intensely focused interest in the outcome of a particular case that their clients do. More than 200 times, moreover, justices sat on cases after receiving contributions from lawyers on both sides. (Emphasis mine). This is the way the system works. The whole notion that justice is meted out based upon the fervor, wiles and acumen of attorneys is just not true. More and more the rulings of courts are based upon who has paid the judges and how much.
We should not be surprised at this. This is not new. In fact the US judicial systems were set up to review legislation and arbitrate civil cases primarily of economic importance. The poor man, due to costs did not have access to the civil courts. That is how class action suits became popular it was a sort of collective way to get the courts attention spread and share the costs of litigation. But class action suits cannot compete with the dollars the trial lawyers, special interests groups and corporations can ante up. “Interest groups on the other side give, too, and the justices they support overwhelmingly vote their way. But Justice Pfeifer says the balance of financial power has shifted to business groups. ‘I don’t care how well a trial lawyer does or how big a pot a labor union has,’ he said, ‘they can’t begin to match the business corporations. It’s not a fair fight.’” That is the crux of the issue, the way the system is now, is not fair or just because money rules. In other words in AmeriKKKa justice is for $ale to the highest bidder.

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