Are Big Money and Big Business Affecting State Judiciary Rulings?

10/03/2012 // Los Angeles, CA, USA // Keller Grover LLP // Attorney Carey Been // (press release)

Los Angeles, CA — The lines are beginning to blur between the influence of campaign contributions to judges and the purpose of our court system, which is to provide a fair trial no matter who you are or how much money you have. As the amount of campaign contributions begins to rise in state court elections across our country, some are beginning to wonder whether corporate sponsorships are affecting the judges’ rulings in cases concerning these contributing corporations, reports Carey Been, a Los Angeles consumer protection attorney.

According to reports, 95 percent of cases in the U.S. are heard in state courts, which are now being pumped with big money by corporate interests.

Although judges swear an oath that they will answer solely to the law, American citizens are beginning to the doubt if that is actually the truth since 39 states elect their state Supreme Court justices. In fact, a recent poll found that 89 percent of respondents “believe the influence of campaign contributions on judges’ rulings is a problem,” The Center for American Progress reports.

In 2010, conservative groups spent $8.9 million on state supreme court elections, compared to just $2.5 million from progressive groups—just to provide some insight about the vast amounts of money being funneled into the judiciary elections.

In states like Wisconsin, that have never experienced expensive judicial races, the independent spending by special interest groups trumped the state’s public financing system in the 2011 election. The judicial selection process is supposed to be apart from politics, but that seems unlikely when special interests get involved in the election process.

In 2010, a decision by the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission eliminated the limits on campaign spending for corporations and unions. North Carolina is one of the first states where corporate interests have been aggressively using this ruling to their advantage, establishing a super political action committee to support a pro-corporate judge in this year’s election.

In high court rulings in 403 cases from 2000 to 2010 in six states that have experienced the most judicial campaign cash during that time—Alabama, Texas, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Illinois, and Michigan—the courts ruled in favor of corporations 71 percent of the time.

Now, even the judges are becoming concerned over the growing influence of money on the court system. According to a 2002 survey, 84 percent of state judges are concerned about interest groups spending money on judicial campaigns.

The Wisconsin Supreme Court recently warned of an inherent risk “that the public may inaccurately perceive a justice as beholding to individuals or groups that contribute to his or her campaign.” Justice Paul Pfeifer, a Republican on the Ohio Supreme Court said, “Everyone interested in contributing has very specific interests.” “They mean to be buying a vote… whether they succeed or not, it’s hard to say,” reports.

“This has created a huge crisis of conscience for the American citizens, who are now losing trust in our legal system,” says Carey Been, a Los Angeles consumer protection lawyer. “Consumers fear that they can no longer win against big business as they are pulling the judiciary strings behind the curtain. It’s important that the citizens reclaim our court system and demand that there be limits placed on judiciary campaign contributions.”

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