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Do Campaign Contributions Buy a Judge?

We're buried in snow in Washington, but the other story that caught my eye and that of many Readers Who Comment this morning involves West Virginia and a case before the U.S. Supreme Court that asks whether an elected judge should recuse himself from litigation involving a major contributor to his campaign.

A vast majority of the comments suggest that the judge in question should have recused himself; some suggest he should be removed. An energetic side argument is going on about whether states should appoint rather than elect judges, as many states do. Since the winner so far in this case is a huge coal company and the loser is a small coal company no longer in business, there is a lot of commentary on the populist belief that big money always triumphs.

Robert Barnes does a terrific job outlining the issues in this tale at the heart of the question of how we dispense justice in this country.

We'll start with hradvocate, who wrote, "...The real issue here is whether judges should be elected. If we agree that they will be elected to fixed terms of office, then we have to accept what the electoral system gives us, no matter how bad it smells... Throw out election of judges or make them one-term judges without the ability to be re-elected...."

HarrisTheYounger said, "If ever there *was* a case where a judge should recuse himself, this is it. Disgusting... but not surprising."

mbmclaughlin wrote, "What this case should be declaring is that electing judges and justices is a crooked, asinine system that inherently produces bad results. We all know that money buys justice in this country. Unfortunately, I don't expect the Supreme Court to do anything about it. They're all too disconnected to get it."

But Judy-in-TX said, "... No wonder people have lost faith in the judicial system. This doesn't change my opinion that justices should be elected... The 2000 Bush vs. Gore case makes it clear that appointment doesn't change the system... Instead, the ethics of recusal should be clearly defined and written in steel."

lostinthemiddle wrote, "We need to remake the symbol of justice; instead of wearing a blindfold and holding a scale, justice should be wearing sunglasses and holding out a donation cup. West Virginia... open for business."

Jihm said, "Judges at all levels rarely recuse themselves when they should. That is just the way things are. The courts are merely another branch of politics as usual."

ExPat2 wrote, "Any truly decent, honest person would recuse him/herself from ANY case in which he/she MIGHT give the appearance of corruption. Blankenship's actions give me the impression that he is neither decent nor honest."

kcbarl said, "...People are sick of politics as usual and votes being bought. There is no way for this judge to shed that presumption. I would never want him to hear a single case of mine, even if it pertained to a subject outside this suit..."

pagun wrote, "It's like the punchline to that old joke: "We've established what you are, now we're just negotiating the price."

FredZuber asked, "...Why do you think Blankenship donated $3 million to Benjamin's campaign? It was cheaper than the award to Caperton. Is $3 million a reasonable price for a judge? Perception is reality, isn't it? In the justice system, that's where it counts..."

wvsnowbirdgirl said, "...The Big Coal companies like Massey Energy are used to running roughshod over the people of West Virginia. They come in, rape the land, take the riches, and run...and if any person or entity decides to take a stand against them, they buy off the judiciary...Too bad this idea for a novel is not a novel idea in WV"

WestVirginian wrote, "Here in West Virginia, we have the 'best' Judges that Coal Barons can buy.$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$"

Casey1 said, "This judge says he could rule fairly on a case where $50 million is on the table and his primary financial supporter is depending on a favorable ruling. That is the most outrageous claim I have ever heard from a judge. Ever. The man should be disrobed (is that the right word?) and sent into his retirement TODAY..."

We'll close with this exchange:
SteveLadd wrote, "Seems to me the word "trust" is lost on the naysayers. The democratic process has been followed. Go with it."

And MarkAntney replied, "Based on what you wrote, do you think a JUDGE should EVER recuse themself from a case? If not, why? IF so, why wouldn't this meet that test?
I can think of at least 3million reasons why he should:):):)?

All comments on this article are here.

By Doug Feaver  |  March 2, 2009; 9:10 AM ET
Categories:  Supreme Court  | Tags: Supreme Court, West Virginia  
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