Money and the Supreme Court: Appearances count | Arkansas Blog

Money and the Supreme Court: Appearances count

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IN THE DARK? Judicial ethics rules say candidates should avoid knowing contributors. But they regularly attend receptions at which donations are invited, such as Justice Courtney Goodson here with steel magnate Tom Schueck and former Energy CEO Hugh McDonald. She wrote on Facebook: "Thanks to Marge and Tom Schueck and Michelle and Hugh McDonald for standing with our campaign." Schueck and lawyers Sheffield Nelson and Sam Kilburn were hosts of the event at Schueck's Pleasant Valley home.
  • IN THE DARK? Judicial ethics rules say candidates should avoid knowing contributors. But they regularly attend receptions at which donations are invited, such as Justice Courtney Goodson here with steel magnate Tom Schueck and former Energy CEO Hugh McDonald. She wrote on Facebook: "Thanks to Marge and Tom Schueck and Michelle and Hugh McDonald for standing with our campaign." Schueck and lawyers Sheffield Nelson and Sam Kilburn were hosts of the event at Schueck's Pleasant Valley home.


The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette began rolling out today a long expected examination by Lisa Hammersly of the influence of money — particularly class action law firm money — on Arkansas Supreme Court races.

It is perhaps only a coincidence of timing that the articles focus heavily — and naturally — on Justice Courtney Goodson, wife of class action lawyer John Goodson, whose friends in the class action bar have joined him in heavily subsidizing Supreme Court races. And it is perhaps only coincidental that she's on the ballot March 1 in a race for Supreme Court against Circuit Judge Dan Kemp.

The article goes into greater details on information reported here numerous times before.

Appearances are important. Heavy money spent on courts that decide cases in favor of those who gave the money — as has happened with the class action lawyers several times — contributes to skepticism about the impartiality of the judiciary.

A few additional points:

JUSTICE RHONDA WOOD: Did she mean to suggest she doesn't know who contributes money to her campaigns?
  • JUSTICE RHONDA WOOD: Did she mean to suggest she doesn't know who contributes money to her campaigns?
* WHO YOU KIDDING?: The justices quoted in the article say they make no effort to determine who contributes money to their campaigns. I guess when they are photographed at fundraising events with lawyers they don't see this as circumstantial evidence that the lawyers gripping and grinning might have kicked in to their campaign.

Then there's Justice Rhonda Wood, who, in addition to enjoying the class action gravy train, has appeared in these pages before about extraordinary fundraising of another sort.

The Democrat-Gazette quoted Wood and others as saying the code of judicial conduct says judges should, as much as possible, not be aware of contributors.

Wood wrote: "Our rules require us to screen off any contributions to avoid knowing who contributes."

How then, do you explain Wood's very specific recitation of sources of her campaign cash when it became an issue once before, in 2014?

I received approximately $70,000 in contributions from the medical community. This is less than 50 percent of my $152,000 in contributions. It is not surprising that the medical community has always supported me as I practiced health law, taught health law, teach continuing education courses in this area, and I am married to a physician. As to Michael Morton, he contributed the maximum of $2,000. I have no knowledge of which nursing facilities he has an ownership interest in. My decisions are solely based on law and nothing else.”

Wood's answer was also disingenuous, as she well knew. By medical community, she meant almost entirely nursing home management companies, led by Michael Morton. They accounted for $76,000 of her money. It was guided to her by her friend Gilbert Baker, who encouraged many of Morton's contributions

* IT DOESN'T STOP AT THE SUPREME COURT: Special interest money isn't restricted to the top court. You'll see in the link on Wood's nursing home money how they plowed money, too, into Court of Appeals races. Remember Mike Maggio, another close friend and one-time campaign trail buddy of Wood's in Conway? He's to be sentenced eventually for admitting to taking a bribe in the form of campaign contributions to throw a nursing home case. He'll be sentenced once that long-running public corruption probe reaches an end.

* BAD AS THEY MAY BE, CLASS ACTION LAWYERS AREN'T ALONE: The extraordinary influence of Goodson and Co. in the accounting of campaign money of current justices is well worth the Democrat-Gazette's deep look and careful reflection by voters. But it is also old and familiar news. Industrial money flows heavily into court of appeals races in hopes of electing judges more unfriendly to workers comp claims. A few years back, the financial industry banded together to defeat a Supreme Court justice who'd done them wrong on a usury issue.

More current: The Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce and its allies are working hard to help Dan Kemp in his race against Goodson, precisely because they think she turned traitor for past support by going against them on key tort reform issue cases.

I don't suggest Kemp is in the tank by any means. He's admired as a straight, if conservative, shooter by lawyers I know. And all those justices singled out for class action law firm money today may be straight shooters, too. Class action lawsuits are good things in many ways. Without them, big companies could abuse small customers who couldn't get to the courthouse alone on a small individual claim. They might have deserved to win the cases they've won at Arkansas's highest court. But the state rules may also be too favorable to them — particularly in allowing some lawyers to profit more through fees than their clients profit through damage rewards. You can bet those who think so will be putting their money where their mouth is — against Goodson.

Moral: Electing judges is a bad idea.

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