Gavel Grab

Archive for the 'Judicial Elections' Category

N.Y. Times: Surging Judicial Election Spending Sows Potential Conflicts

gavel_cash_20121102165220_320_240A recusal motion before the Wisconsin Supreme Court in a politicized case offers an example of how “a rising tide of money in state judicial races is creating potential conflicts for judges who sit on cases involving donors,” the New York Times reported, relying on data from Justice at Stake:

“Judges in the highest courts in 38 states face some type of election, and in the 2011-12 election cycle, the latest for which data is available, more than $56 million was spent on those races, nearly twice as much as in the 1990s, according to Justice at Stake, a nonpartisan research group.”

As mentioned earlier by Gavel Grab, a special prosecutor has requested 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. The groups now reportedly under investigation for possible campaign finance violations in connection with Wisconsin Gov. Walker’s campaign during the recall election of 2011 and 2012.

“It boggles the mind that these justices are saying that they can somehow be impartial when these parties to the case have been essentially stuffing their pockets with huge wads of cash,” Matt Rothschild, the executive director of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, told the Times. His group is a JAS partner organization. Read more

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Commentary: When Politics Trumps Justice in Alabama’s Courts

alabamaPolitical expediency has trumped justice when it comes to two of the hottest issues facing Alabama’s courts, and that’s because the state has an elected judiciary that has bowed  to prevailing pressure, Billy Corriher of the Center for American Progress writes in a new analysis.

His commentary focuses on the Alabama Supreme Court’s defiance of a federal court order that local judges must offer marriage licenses to same-sex couples (check out Gavel Grab), and judicial overrides of jury verdicts that gave criminal defendants a life prison sentence, resulting in a death sentence instead  (find background here in Gavel Grab). Corriher writes:

“Simply put, Alabama’s judicial elections have made it impossible for litigants to expect justice if they are politically powerless or seen as different from the majority of citizens. Litigants who are not popular with a majority of voters cannot expect elected judges to risk their political futures by ruling in their favor.”

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JAS: So Far, Only One Side Buys TV Ads in Wisconsin Court Race

Outside spending is still slow to take off in the April 7 Wisconsin Supreme Court election, UrbanMilwaukee reports by quoting Justice at Stake data.

The campaign of incumbent Justice Ann Walsh Bradley has booked TV ads valued at more than $220,000, and challenger Judge James Daley and independent groups have booked no ads so far.

“This is very unusual for a Wisconsin race, given the extent to which Club for Growth, Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, Citizens for a Strong America, and the Greater Wisconsin Committee have played in the past,” says Laurie Kinney, JAS communications director. “That is one reason why we are watching closely to see if all that will change with a last-minute surge of ad buys. More contracts can definitely be booked before the election and it wouldn’t be unusual if they were, although this is pretty late.” Read more

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Wisconsin Supreme Court Candidates Accuse, Respond, Repeat

Judge James Daley

Judge James Daley

Justice Bradley

Justice Bradley

Campaign rhetoric in the Wisconsin Supreme Court race is heating up, as the two candidates begin to seriously spar.

An Associated Press article reports that after challenger Judge James Daley accused Justice Ann Walsh Bradley of contributing to dysfunction on the state’s high court, she pointed to an article in which Daley said the exact opposite. In another recent exchange detailed in The Capital Times, Daley emphasized the 57 sheriffs who have endorsed him, and accused Bradley of putting “needless roadblocks in the way of our dedicated law enforcement officers.” Bradley rebutted this by reminding her opponent of the “130 sheriffs, chiefs of police, and district attorneys” endorsing her.

Read more

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Article: Group Spending on Judicial Elections is Highly ‘Mysterious’

Screen Shot 2015-03-25 at 1.34.38 PMFor the second time this week, a major national news outlet has cast a spotlight on a so-called “social welfare organization” using secret money to influence state judicial elections. In TIME, an article by the Center for Public Integrity calls the Law Enforcement Alliance of America “one of the country’s most mysterious hit squads.”

LEAA, which operates in “near-complete secrecy,” has parachuted into statewide races at a late hour and run stinging attack ads; it helped defeat an Arkansas Supreme Court candidate last year (see Gavel Grab), the article says. Said former Mississippi Supreme Court Justice Oliver Diaz, who was defeated in 2008 and targeted by an LEAA advertising campaign tying him to rapists and murderers:

“They can put out some sort of horrible attack ad on any judges that they want and really influence an election with a fairly small amount of money. They’re buying seats on supreme courts in states all around the country.”

The article quoted Justice at Stake data to report that Judge Denise Langford Morris was defeated in her bid for the Michigan Supreme Court in 2010 after LEAA spent $800,000 on ads attacking her (see Gavel Grab). Read more

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Wisconsin Court Candidates Trade Jabs About Partisan Influences

Screen Shot 2015-03-09 at 12.49.25 PMThe candidates for a seat on the Wisconsin Supreme Court, in a joint appearance on Tuesday, continued to trade jabs about partisan influences in the technically nonpartisan contest.

Rock County Circuit Judge James Daley has accepted a $7,000 in-kind donation from the state GOP. Incumbent Justice Ann Walsh Bradley said, according to the Associated Press, “I have a vision for our court system where political parties are not having undue input on nonpartisan races.” She added, “I strongly believe political parties should stay out of judicial races.”

Daley said the campaign is not about an in-kind contribution, and he said the incumbent’s campaign has accepted contributions from labor unions that traditionally have supported Democrats. “Justice Bradley’s real complaint is that she objects to the special interest groups that don’t support her,” Judge Daley said. She sits at the center of a “dysfunctional” court, he added.

Other recent coverage included Beloit Daily News, “Bradley: Keep court nonpartisan”; Wausau Daily Herald, “Daley: Bradley’s record focus of Supreme Court campaign”; and,  “Voters to decide future of Wisconsin Supreme Court.”


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End ‘Diseased’ Judicial Elections, Pennsylvania Editorial Implores

20140602_Philadelphia-traffic-courtLast week, U.S. District Judge Lawrence Stengel had harsh words about electing judges when he sentenced a former Philadelphia Traffic Court judge, Willie Singletary, to 20 months in prison for perjury in a “ticket-fixing” scandal. Judge Stengel said:

“How someone so obviously unqualified for this office can be elected has more to do with the diseased political system that puts people like this up for office than it does about Mr. Singletary himself.”

This week, a Philadelphia Daily News editorial cited the judge’s remarks in imploring legislators to switch to a merit-based system for choosing judges: Read more

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‘Dark Money’ Disclosure Bill Killed by Arkansas House Panel

An Arkansas House Committee has rejected legislation to require disclosure of names of individual donors to “dark money” campaign ads, like those aired in a state Supreme Court election in 2014.

The Law Enforcement Alliance of America  aired more than $400,000 in TV advertising that accused candidate Tim Cullen of believing that child pornography is a victimless crime. Cullen, who lost to then-Court of Appeals Judge Robin Wynne, and his supporters said the ad distorted his views, and called it “misleading” and “beyond the pale” (see Gavel Grab).

ArkansasOnline said in reporting on the House panel vote this week that critics voiced concerns about safeguarding the privacy of political donors. It said about the LEAA, “It was never clear who donated money to the Virginia group for the Arkansas advertising.” Read more

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Article Labels Judicial Crisis Network a ‘Dark Money Juggernaut’

Sales-Tax-money-gavelThe Judicial Crisis Network has evolved from a similarly named outfit once devoted to supporting President George W. Bush’s judicial nominees into a “dark money juggernaut” spending millions of dollars to influence state judicial and attorneys general races, the The Daily Beast reports.

The long investigative piece, which uses Justice at Stake data about judicial election spending trends, also says Judicial Crisis Network “has emerged as a pipeline for secret money to other, better-known dark money groups like the Wisconsin Club for Growth and the American Future Fund which, in turn, have spent big bucks in state Supreme Court and AG races.”

The article by Viveca Novak and Peter Stone says the Republican State Leadership Committee, which invested heavily last year in state judicial elections, received checks from JCN. It also reports that JCN sunk $1 million into an unsuccessful 2012 effort to defeat a lower-court judge in Oakland County, Michigan, and it explores why the judge may have been targeted. Read more

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PA Supreme Court Candidates Agree: High Court Has Been Distracted

PennsylvaniaSupremeCourtDuring a panel discussion with the Philadelphia Bar Association, 10 candidates for the Pennsylvania Supreme Court discussed the need for court reforms, especially greater focus by the high court.

According to a Legal Intelligencer article, the candidates – four Republican and six Democrat – largely agreed that Pennsylvania’s courts need some fundamental changes, starting with the Supreme Court deciding more cases. “I think the Supreme Court could take more cases. I think the Supreme Court could decide cases faster,” Superior Court Judge David N. Wecht responded when the question was posed. “I think the Supreme Court has been distracted with other matters.” Those other matters include the scandals that forced two justices into retirement, and three seats on the high court are up for election this year.

The candidates began to disagree on the types of cases the court should pay more attention to. Wecht proposed four areas: asbestos claims, products liability, oil and gas litigation and domestic relations. Superior Court Judge Christine L. Donohue answered that cases involving suppression of evidence and privacy should be a greater priority, while her colleague Anne E. Lazarus highlighted a lack of case law for estate disputes.

The article was headlined, “Candidates Call for More Work From High Court,” and it was available through searching by Google.

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