Study Indicates Likely Corruption in Louisiana Supreme Court

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If a study
detailed in a forthcoming Tulane Law Review article is right,
judicial campaign contributions talk in Louisiana’s highest court.
In “The Louisiana Supreme Court in Question: An Empirical and Statistical
Study of the Effect of Campaign Money on the Judicial Function,”
Tulane Law Professor Vernon Palmer and Loyola University economist
John Levendis show a substantial statistical correlation between
a party’s campaign contributions and favorable treatment from three
of the seven Louisiana Supreme Court jurists, including current
Chief Justice Pascal F. Calogero, Jr.

The study examined
cases decided between 1992 and 2006, and focused on tort/negligence
and constitutional law cases where justices typically have more
discretion. It showed that the individual justices on the court
encountered a campaign contributor in 17% of cases heard, with some
47% of all cases heard in the court involving a donor to at least
one justice’s campaign committee. The pair concluded that “[s]tatistically
speaking, campaign donors have a favored status among litigants
appearing before the Justices.”

The authors
examined each justice’s tendencies on the bench — for example, whether
she was typically a “defendant’s judge” or a “plaintiff’s judge.”
These data were collected in order to determine whether a justice’s
legal philosophy might be the reason for favorable treatment received
from the court. A justice’s shift away from his usual voting preferences
in cases involving a donor, then, would lead to the conclusion that
donors are not simply supporting the justice whose judicial philosophy
and tendencies most favor their cases, but rather influencing the
outcome through campaign contributions. The authors recorded how
each justice performed when a campaign contributor was before her,
and determined how the size of the party’s campaign contribution
affected the likelihood of a favorable verdict. The figures indicated
that Justices Calogero, Kimball, and Weimer were all more likely
to render a favorable verdict to the party who was a “net contributor,”
i.e. made a larger donation to that justice than did the other party.
For example, a defendant’s odds of receiving the support of Judge
Kimball were shown to increase by 30% with each $1000 campaign contribution.
When Palmer and Levendis factored in the timing of the gift, the
correlation became even more pronounced: a donation within the prior
month correlated to more than twice the likelihood of support from
Justice Kimball, for example.

While the authors
take pains to stress that the study shows correlation and not necessarily
corruption, the reaction from the justices implicated by the study
has been sharp. The justices have denied any causal relationship
between campaign cash and friendly treatment by the court. Justice
Kimball said, “I have never in my life made one single decision
based on who the plaintiffs were or who the lawyers were,” and noted
that she has a hired fundraising coordinator and does not personally
solicit contributions or otherwise oversee her campaign’s war chest.

Palmer
says that the study was originally inspired by his doubts about
the propriety of elected justices sitting for their donors’ cases,
but Levendis has pointed out in a recent presentation at an economics
conference in Auburn, Alabama that mandatory recusal in such cases
would not be likely to resolve the problem. If a justice were forbidden
from hearing a donor’s case, Levendis reasoned, litigants might
then make strategic campaign contributions in order to “knock out”
the jurists most likely to be hostile to their cases. Although the
remedy to this troubling problem remains an open question, one can
be sure that possible solutions are being weighed in the bayou state.

March
27, 2008

Dick Clark
[send him mail],
a native Southerner, currently lives in exile in the People’s Republic
of Cambridge, MA. He is a first-year law student at Suffolk University
Law School in Boston.

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