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West Virginia: Reform Institute files amicus brief on campaign contributions received by state-court justice from major campaign contributor

From a press release of the Reform Institute: The skyrocketing sums being injected into elections for judgeships are undermining the judiciary. This disturbing trend is exemplified by the case of Caperton et al v. Massey Energy, which the U.S. Supreme Court is being asked to review.

In keeping with its commitment to fundamental governance and election reform, the Reform Institute has joined with the Brennan Center for Justice and the Campaign Legal Center today in filing an amicus brief in support of petitioners. As the brief states, “Amici share a concern that the injection of massive sums of money into judicial campaigns by litigants and lawyers, can, in certain circumstances, threaten the integrity, impartiality, and independence of the courts, and thereby deprive litigants appearing before those courts of due process of law.”

The petitioners, led by former Solicitor General Ted Olson, argue that their Due Process rights were abridged because a West Virginia Supreme Court Justice refused to recuse himself from hearing the appeal of a $50 million jury verdict, even though the CEO of the company appealing the verdict contributed over $3 million to his campaign for the bench. The Justice, Brent Benjamin, ultimately was the deciding vote in overturning the verdict. As Mr. Olson remarked, “A line needs to be drawn somewhere to prevent a judge from hearing cases involving a person who has made massive campaign contributions to benefit the judge.”

“This case perfectly illustrates how large contributions in judicial races can distort the judicial process, providing at the very least, the appearance of corruption,” according to Cecilia Martinez, Executive Director of the Reform Institute. “When litigants feel that they are at a disadvantage in court proceedings due to contributions to the presiding judge from the opposing party, respect for the rule of law suffers.” -- Massive Money in Judicial Elections a Threat to Due Process

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