Monday, December 24, 2007

Improper Judicial Influence?

"As it has every year for six years now, the American Tort Reform Association released its list of 'judicial hellholes' last week. ... The report was prepared by a business-oriented group that dislikes perosonal-injury lawsuits and big class-action awards. ... But just because the business lobby has a stake in the civil justice system does not disqualify it from speaking about it. The question is whether the report's arguments make sense, are supported by evidence and are applied evenhandedly. ... It is, for starters, a collection of anecdotes based largely on newspaper accounts. It has no apparent methodology. ... 'We have never claimed to be an empirical study', said Darren McKinney, a spokesman for the association. ... The report often makes sound but incomplete points. It assails, for instance, the practice of allowing plaintiffs' lawyers to make campaign contributions to the judges they appear before. ... But the poll did not ask about contributions from plaintiff's lawyers. It concerned all contributions, including those from business groups. And in many states these days, contributions from business groups are much larger than those from plaintiffs' lawyers and labor unions. ... In November, [West Virginia's] highest court threw out a jury verdict for more than $50 million in a fraud case against Massey Energy, a coal-mining company. The vote was 3 to 2. Voting with the majority was Justice Brent D. Benjamin, who was elected to the court in 2004 with the help of about $3 million in advertisements and other support from Don L. Blankenship, Massey's chief executive officer. ... But a new study, to be published in the University of Michigan Journal of Law Reform next year, found that businesses use arbitration clauses in major contracts with other businesses less than 10 percent of the time. By contrast, more than three-quarters of consumer contracts make arbitration mandatory. That suggests, the Michigan study said, that corporation's real motive in insisting on arbitration clauses in consumer contracts is to gain a strategic advantage, particularly by avoiding class actions", Adam Liptak (AL) in the NYT, 24 December.

AL isn't suggesting some improper influence by Massey on the West Virginia courts is he? It's not for nothing many people have contempt for the courts.

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