Saturday, June 12, 2010

How to buy a judge (and fairly cheap, too)

Christopher Brauchli totes up the bucks at Counterpunch:
One of money’s more amusing appearances was in the 1980s when the Texas Supreme Court decided a contract dispute between Pennzoil and Texaco in favor of the former with the result that Texaco settled with Pennzoil for $3 billion. Following entry of that judgment, wags observed that in one year the lawyers for the winning side had contributed in excess of $300,000 to members of the court for their reelection efforts whereas lawyers for the losing side had contributed less than $200,000. Only a cynic would believe that the contributions affected the justices’ decision, at least until West Virginia came along.
But if you follow the money...
Capperton vs. A.T. Massey Coal Company, decided in 2009, demonstrated that even the U.S. Supreme Court, a majority of whose members rarely take offense when money takes control, took offense.

Brent Benjamin, a West Virginia Supreme Court Justice, accepted $3 million in campaign contributions from Don Blankenship, the owner of A.T. Massey Coal Co. (Massey was most recently in the news, before being eclipsed by BP, when an explosion at one of its mines with countless safety violations killed 29 miners.) Justice Benjamin saw no conflict in accepting $3 million in campaign contributions from Mr. Blankenship or entities controlled by him and then, in two separate appeals, casting the deciding vote in favor of his benefactor. (A slim majority of the U.S. Supreme Court saw it differently and said he had a clear conflict and sent the case back to the W. Virginia Supreme Court where presumably Justice Benjamin will stay home when the case is again heard by the court.) A report by Justice at Stake discloses that in 2000 candidates seeking Supreme Court seats in the state of Alabama spent slightly more than $12 million. In 2006 that figure was $13.4 million and in 2006 the candidates seeking to become that state’s chief justice raised $8.2 million. Between 2000 and 2008, candidates for state Supreme Courts positions throughout the country where contested elections were permitted, spent close to $200 million.


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