Apr 19 2008

Dorothy Samuels, a member of The New York Times Editorial Board, has some trenchant observations about who contributes to to judicial campaigns. In the Tuesday, April 15 edition of The New York Times, she writes,

"The perception that money is corrupting the courts would be damaging enough. But often, it seems, special interests are finding that buying up judges likely to side with them in big-dollar cases is a good investment. . ."

Later in the editorial she outlines the West Virginia State Supreme Court's (mis)handling of a case involving Massey Energy:

"In West Virginia, meanwhile, the State Supreme Court’s handling of a case involving a large coal company, Massey Energy, took on a decidedly farcical flavor. For the second time, the appellate court threw out a $50 million verdict against Massey.

The court decided to rehear the case after photographs publicly surfaced of its chief justice, Elliott Maynard, vacationing in Monte Carlo with Massey’s chief executive, Don Blankenship, in 2006, while the matter was pending in the Supreme Court. The chief justice disqualified himself from the rehearing. So did another justice, Larry Starcher, because he had publicly criticized Blankenship and his company. The 3-to-2 outcome in favor of Massey was unchanged from the first round, which might not have been noteworthy except that the deciding vote was cast once again by Justice Brent Benjamin, who declined to recuse himself despite owing his election to the court to more than $3 million spent by Mr. Blankenship."

Samuels offers a solution from a report by the Brennan Center for justice: stronger recusal rules.

See the complete editorial at

The Appeal


One would think that I might get enough of the nuances of the law in my life, but on the side I am an avid reader, and recently read John Grisham's "The Appeal."

One refrain constant throughout my career is the mantra that if one does not believe the decision of a trial court was based upon proper application of existing legal principles to the factual situation, then the avenue of redress is the appeal.

"The Appeal" is a chilling reminder that litigants are not safe anywhere. (link...)

While "The Appeal" is fiction, Massey Energy is not. Economic influence and blackmail are alive and well in our court systems, and the pervasive power of money-and attendant concept of power-has been shown to corrupt.*


* This author does not insinuate or declare that the present Tennessee appellate system has yet been co-opted by the power of money . . . but stronger recusal rules, especially in certain trial courts, would help the public perception of the judicial process by eliminating the "appearance of impropriety."

Thomas F. Mabry
P. O. Box 52385
Knoxville, TN 37950

Fax 1-888-215-3119
Phone 1-865-671-0598

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