A backhanded defense follows for Circuit Judge Mike Maggio, who resigned a Court of Appeals race amid multiple ethics investigations.
In due time, the state Judicial Discipline and Disability Commission will formally end his judicial career. But it's already been effectively suspended by the Arkansas Supreme Court. So there's little practical importance to the recent Democrat-Gazette report that another lawsuit pends in his court against a nursing home owned by Michael Morton, a major Maggio campaign contributor who benefitted from an earlier $4.2 million verdict reduction by Maggio in an unrelated nursing home damage case. Another judge will handle the pending case.
To date, there's also been no evidence Maggio was aware of Morton's contributions when he issued that reduction of a jury verdict. The contributions were made and reported months later.
Maggio's attorney, Lauren White Hamilton, made a fair point about the focus on Maggio and his cases in an email to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette that she also sent to me.
Apart from reporting by the Arkansas Times, little comprehensive has been written about political campaign contributions — by Morton and others — to other judicial races. If it is fair to guiltily associate Maggio's work with such money, why not other candidates, too, she asks.
Morton has made enormous contributions — through multiple corporate veils and multiple PAC contributions — to many other political races, including judicial races by Supreme Court candidates Karen Baker, Rhonda Wood and Robin Wynne. He's poured significant sums, too, into Faulkner County circuit court races by Doralee Chandler, Troy Braswell and David Clark.
Hamilton wrote about more than Morton and other nursing home contributors. She noted, too, the contributions of powerful trial lawyers to other judicial candidates, including by Arkansas and out-of-state firms that have associated in suing a pharmaceutical company in an action similar to a recent big case in Arkansas. She commented to the D-G:
"There has been zero reporting on these contributions and on their timing which occurred just one month before the Arkansas Supreme Court ruled on this [similar pharmaceutical] issue. There is nothing wrong with what these candidates did, but the standard should be the same for all judges at any level. Even a cursory review of contributions for all judicial candidates will reveal that the majority of contributions come from attorneys or law firms — all of which is perfectly legal and ethical. Until such time that Arkansas publicly finances judicial races or goes to an appointment system, judicial candidates will continue to receive contributions from trial lawyers associations, the health care industry, lawyers, and law firms."
She's singing my song. Lawyers pay for judicial elections. It looks terrible, but it is legal. No judge is required to recuse from a case simply because a lawyer has made a contribution to his or her campaign. (At least up to a point. The U.S. Supreme Court has said a pivotal judge in a West Virginia coal case shouldn't have heard the case after receiving $3 million in coal money.)
The nursing home spigot to select judicial races this year seems to have been turned on through backroom work by former Republican Sen. Gilbert Baker of Conway, at the time a $130,000-a-year lobbyist for UCA as well as operator of a private political consulting company. He'd long been a paid shill for the business and Religious Right lobbies and his candidates are cut from the same cloth.
Thanks to his injudicious postings on an LSU fan website, Maggio no longer poses a threat to justice in Arkansas courts. His paid vacation will end for good no later than Jan. 1. The big-money backers and politically partisan utterances by the judicial candidates who remain on the ballot are of more pressing concern.