In its February 23, 2009 opinion section the Clarion-Ledger refers to a pending U.S. Supreme Court case out of West Virginia that involves whether an elected judge must recuse himself/ herself from cases involving one of the judge’s political contributors. Here is the editorial.
The case is straight out of John Grisham’s The Appeal. A defendant lost a $50 million verdict, appealed and contributed $3 million to a supreme court candidate while the appeal was pending. The candidate won, refused to recuse himself from the contributor’s case and voted to overturn the verdict. The Ledger states:
Mississippi’s current quagmire of judicial corruption cases – interposed against a decade of tort reform battles that have pitted big spending trial lawyers against bigger spending business and medical interests in judicial elections – will focus much attention on the high court decision in the West Virginia case.
Regardless if the contributions come from attorneys arguing cases before the judge or from business/medical interests whose assets are at risk in cases, concerns about impartial judges are real.
The Ledger lays all this out and then does not take a position on what should be done.
It will be a crying shame if the Supreme Court does not find a constitutional violation when judges decide cases involving large campaign contributors. In federal court non-elected judges recuse themselves from cases involving companies whose stock the judge owns. Similar rules should apply to state court cases when there is any concern of impartiality, such as large campaign contributions.
I would like to see two things in Mississippi to return the public faith in the judiciary and legal system:
- an appointed judiciary system; and
- rules prohibiting the hiring or association of an attorney on a case because of a perceived personal relationship between the attorney and the judge.
The first proposal would have to involve the legislature. But the second proposal could be imposed by the Mississippi Supreme Court by adding a rule to the Mississippi Rules of Professional Conduct.