Thursday, December 17, 2009

Buying Judgeships, How Much!

In the Caperton v. A.T. Massey Coal Co., case the US Supreme Court ruled (5-4) that a West Virginia Supreme Court Chief Justice who was the beneficiary of millions of dollars in campaign support from Don Blankenship of Massey Coal should have recused himself from hearing the appeal that resulted in voiding a $50 million verdict agasint Blankenship's company.  According to the excellent NYT coverage by Adam Liptak, CEO Blankenship spent $3 million dollars to unseat the incumbent W. Va. Chief Justice in favor of the new Chief Justice who presided over the A.T. Massey Company appeal.

The Supreme Court opinions were replete with dicta (observations by the court, not holdings) saying just because Blankenship spent millions, didn't mean Massey Coal "bought" the W.Va. Chief Justice's vote.  Right.  Got that?  Blankenship spent millions to swap out West Virginia jurists; and, bu the US Supreme Court tells ue we can only conclude that Blankenship acted out of his concern for the commonweal of West-Goddam-Virginia.  A.T. Massey's millions didn't effect the vote of the Chief Justice who got the job for a greater appreciation of how awesome Massey Coal is, bear in mind that they are the coal mining operation that likes to remove West Virginia mountain tops to find ore. 

Also remember, the mindset:  as in Justice Scalia says he can't be bought by a duck hunting trip with the Vice President.  'Nino ain't recusing himself. 

But this post isn't about the Massey Coal and the West Virginia Supreme court, it is not about Duck hunting with Dick Cheney--no, what caught my attention is the cost of the Westmoreland County, Pa. Court of Common Pleas races.  Two judgeships were up for election.  How much was spent to fill these two suburban greter-Pittsburgh county seats? 
Ten thousand?  Fifty thousand?  One hudred thousand?  Try $800,000., that's right $800,000 was spent, buying, 'er, getting elected to these seats.

The 2000 census figures for Westmoreland County reflect a population of approximately 370,000--so, why were these races so expensive?  Apparently the answer is not as nefarious as West Virginia, but one can legitimately question what sort of democracy you get with this sort of spending--and who is the Judge is obligated to afterwards.   A source in Pennsylvania tells me that these are well-paid judgeships: $160,000 a year;  and the term of office is 10 years with a retention vote after that, turning the seat into near-lifetime appointment.   

John Grisham, best selling novelist/lawyer was on WAMU's Diane Rehm's Show, Monday.  Grisham said flatly, "I’m not sure we live in a representative democracy, anymore. He who  has the largest checkbook rules.",


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