Mud Flies, Spending Soars in Mississippi

“A 20-month-old baby dead from blows to the head. Justice Oliver Diaz voted to overturn the conviction.”

Comcast has removed a special-interest group’s harsh attack ad from Mississippi airwaves, after a judicial conduct committee rejected its claim that Justice Oliver Diaz  “voted for” killers and a child rapist in three different cases.

According to the Jackson Clarion-Ledger report:

The truth is Diaz, who is seeking re-election, wasn’t on the court when one case was heard. In a second, he voted for a hearing on DNA testing, not against conviction. And in a third, he joined then-Chief Justice Ed Pittman in concluding that trial errors required a new trial.

Comcast is now pulling the commercial, which the Special Committee on Judicial Election Campaign Intervention found violates the Code of Judicial Conduct.

The group sponsoring the ad-the Virginia-based Law Enforcement Alliance of America-did not return phone calls, the Clarion-Ledger said.

In a statement, the judicial committee, which is appointed by the state Supreme Court, said it “condemns these ads as they urge a biased rather than an impartial court system.”

Portions of the ad can be seen in a “Truth Test” report by television station WAPT, which also found the ad to be false.

In other Mississippi news, the race for chief justice in Mississippi has topped the $1 million mark in candidate fund-raising.   With less than a week before the election, Chief Justice Jim Smith and his challenger, Jackson lawyer Jim Kitchens, have raised a combined total of $1.2 million, the Jackson Clarion-Ledger reported.   

"Buying Time 2008"

Fueled by special interests,  TV spending for judicial races in Michigan and Alabama has caught up with an especially costly and nasty race earlier this year in Wisconson, according to the latest edition of “Buying Time 2008,” released by the Brennan Center for Justice.

To see the full report, click here.

Finance Law Faces Court Hurdle

Troy Cahill of Akin Gump law firm has written an article that appears on the SCOTUS blog discussing the campaign-finance law case, Duke v. Leake which the Supreme Court is considering whether to hear. A public announcement could come as early as November 3.

The case hinges on whether  North Carolina’s system of public funding for judicial elections violates free-speech rights, by allegedly punishing those who don’t participate. A petition focuses on the law’s provision for “rescue funds,” in which certain triggering actions by an opponent can lead to a release of additional funds to a judicial candidate using the public-finance system. 

Here is an excerpt from the Cahill article:

In August 2005, W. Russell “Rusty” Duke, a candidate for chief justice of the North Carolina Supreme Court, and an anti-abortion advocacy group challenged several of the provisions under the First Amendment, on grounds they pose a burden to core political speech. (Duke lost the November 2006 election.) Judge W. Earl Britt of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina dismissed the claim, and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit affirmed.

The 4th Circuit first concluded that the incentives offered by North Carolina’s public financing system do not unconstitutionally coerce candidates to participate in the program. As for the rescue funds provision, the 4th Circuit concluded that their provision did not burden or chill the speech of nonparticipating candidates or independent entities making expenditures on their behalf.

In their petition for certiorari-filed by James Bopp of the James Madison Center for Free Speech in Indiana-the petitioners argue that the 4th Circuit’s ruling places it “on the wrong side of [a] circuit split” [that is, when two federal circuits issue conflicting opinions] relating to the constitutionality of rescue funds and reporting requirements that accompany such funds.

Updates on Judicial Misconduct Cases

In Wisconsin, a panel has been selected to hear charges of misconduct of Wisconsin State Supreme Court Justice Michael Gableman.  The charges of misconduct involve a controversial and misleading ad that Gableman took out against opponent Louis Butler.  One of the panelists, reserve judge David Deninger, was a surprise selection given his recent outspoken criticism of Gableman’s campaign.  A WISN report has more information.

A Miller-McCune article summarizes other cases of judicial misconduct around the country, including lots of information on the case involving U.S. District Judge Thomas Porteous, a case previously reported on in Gavel Grab.  

According to the report:

A panel of the nation’s top judges, presided over by Chief Justice John Roberts, found substantial evidence that Porteous repeatedly perjured himself in his bankruptcy, lied on financial disclosures and deprived litigants from knowing that he was accepting thousands of dollars in cash and other gifts from lawyers trying cases in his court.

NC Editorial Offers Tips to Next President on Gitmo

Despite numerous chastisings from the Supreme Court, negative public opinion and the promises of President Bush,  the detainee prison at Guantanamo will remain open for the foreseeable future.  An editorial in the Raleigh News Observer offers some advice for the next president on how to handle the controversial installation.

The author offers several challenges that the next president will have to face, including the judicial system that is employed to prosecute these detainees.  “The military commission system has failed miserably and should be scrapped,” the article says.

The article also discusses what to do with detainees against whom charges have been dropped, but are still in custody due to repatriation obstacles.  The next president will have to spend some political capital with our allies to persuade them to accept these detainees.

Spending, Attacks on Rise in Michigan

Michigan Chief Justice Clifford Taylor continues to heavily outspend his Democratic challenger, Wayne County judge Diane Hathaway,  and the candidates and special interest groups have spent a total of about $4 million in an increasingly testy campaign, a report said.

According to a release from the Michigan Campaign Finance Network,  Taylor has raised $1.8 million, a record for Michigan, while Hathaway has raised  $370,000.

But that appears to just scratch the surface. MCFN, a Justice at Stake partner, has estimated that the Michigan Chamber of Commerce and the Michigan Democratic Party have spent almost $2 million on “independent” television advertising, in what the report called an “underground Supreme Court campaign.”

As Rich Robinson of the Michigan Campaign Finance Network noted, both groups can keep on spending:

Under Michigan’s campaign finance law, the Chamber and the Democratic Party don’t have to report the spending in their campaign finance reports because the advertisements don’t mention voting. The nonpartisan Michigan Campaign Finance Network collected the television ad records from the public files of Michigan’s commercial broadcasters and cable systems.

Neither does the Chamber or the Democratic Party have to disclose who gave them the money to pay for the ad time. This is in contrast to federal campaign finance law, where contributors to candidate-focused issue advertising are identified in the public record.

The Chamber and Democrats both have aired negative ads. One ad, available on the Chamber’s home page, insinuates that Hathaway gave a sex offender a soft sentence. The Democrats last week released an anti-Taylor hit ad dubbed the  “Sleeping Judge,” as well as a more recent ad linking President Bush and Taylor:

For his part, Taylor has aired an ad rebutting allegations that he slept during a case and attacking Hathaway’s credibility. (more…)

Janet Reno, Ex-Judges File Brief in Detainees Case

Several former federal judges and ex-officials of the Justice Department have filed an amicus brief, urging the Supreme Court to take action against the prosecution of terrorists in military tribunal style courts, according to SCOTUSblog.  The brief states that civilian courts at the federal level are fully capable of handling these cases.  Janet Reno, attorney general under President Clinton, was among the authors of the brief.

The brief urged the Supreme Court to hear the new case of Al-Marri v. Pucciarelli, which will review the president’s authority to  indefinitely hold an individual in the United States on suspicion of terrorism. If the Justice Department meets the Nov. 24 deadline to file its own brief, the case, if accepted, could be heard this term.

A portion of the brief reads:

…we are gravely concerned that indefinite imprisonment of individuals within the United States will become increasingly common — that the government will choose to avoid criminal  prosecutions and the protections associated with them…

Article Details Nasty Alabama Race

The race to replace Alabama Supreme Court Justice Harold See has escalated from a cold war to an all-out slug fest.

The campaign between Republican Greg Shaw and Democrat Deborah Bell Paseur is aiming to be one of the nastiest in the state’s history, according to a Birmingham News article.  Both sides have slung negative ads towards each other, with claims ranging from oil company backing to outright hypocrisy.

Justice At Stake’s  Charlie Hall was quoted in the article, saying “At first it was like one of those Westerns where the people are saying `Things are too quiet around here.’  Then the guns started blazing.”

Both campaigns claim that they are the victim of smear campaigns and disingenuous push polls by unknown third parties.  Needless to say, this is shaping up to be one of the hottest judicial races of the cycle.

For other Gavel Grab postings on Alabama, click here.

New data on judicial elections

Professor C. Scott Peters at the University of Northern Iowa has taken a closer look at the new politics of judicial elections.  In a recent issue of the Justice System Journal, Professor Peters concludes that “at the moment, state supreme court elections or appear in transition — gradually losing their special nature, but, on the whole, not yet fully “political.”

Among the findings: 

  • In 2006, 71% of Supreme Court candidates surveyed indicated that parties or interest groups attempted to influence their campaigns. 
  • “Interest groups have increased their influence on state supreme court elections through the use of candidate questionnaires.” 
  • Only 10% of candidates said the money spent by candidates was not a factor in their election and nearly 75% indicated that it was an important factor.

“Given the link between money and professionalize campaign techniques,” Professor Peters concludes, “one can expect that as money flows into these elections in greater amounts, campaigns will continue their progression toward fully politicized campaigns, in both her organization and their messages.”