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Calif. justice growing tired of judicial elections

By John O'Brien | May 24, 2010


SACRAMENTO, Calif. (Legal Newsline) - California Supreme Court Justice Ming Chin may soon be a proponent of eliminating judicial elections, he said last week during a hearing held by the Assembly Judiciary Committee.

He made the remarks as a member of a panel at the hearing. The state Assembly recently passed a bill that would require judges recusing from cases involving contributors who gave more than $1,500, as was suggested by Chin's Commission for Impartial Courts.

The California law blog Legal Pad noted Chin said he is "getting closer" to wanting the state to be rid of judicial elections.

"The more that I hear about what's going on across the country, the more concerned I am," Chin said.

Assemblymember Mike Feuer introduced the legislation in February.

"This bill would provide for the disqualification of a judge who has received a contribution in excess of $1,500 from a party or counsel in a matter that is before the court, and either the contribution was received in support of the judge's last election, if the last election was within the last six years, or the contribution was received in anticipation of an upcoming election," the bill says.

California Supreme Court justices are up for election every 12 years. The bill is now before the state Senate.

A recent publication by the Federalist Society explored how states are reacting to a 2009 U.S. Supreme Court decision that said a West Virginia Supreme Court justice should have recused himself from a $50 million case involving a campaign supporter.

Hugh Caperton's case involved a coal supply agreement. A 3-2 decision in 2007 in favor of Massey Energy overturned the verdict before Caperton complained about the relationship between Massey CEO Don Blankenship and then-Justice Spike Maynard.

The two, lifelong friends, had been photographed together in Monaco, where they claim they had been vacationing separately at the same time.

In March 2008, the justices (minus Maynard) again voted 3-2 in favor of Massey, and Caperton complained that Justice Brent Benjamin shouldn't have participated because Blankenship spent millions of dollars supporting his 2004 campaign.

Blankenship created a 527 group that supported Benjamin's candidacy.

The issue came before the U.S. Supreme Court in March 2009, and it ruled in a 5-4 vote that Benjamin should have recused himself, setting the stage for a third decision.

Massey was victorious in a 4-1 vote. That decision, like the other two, focused on a forum-selection clause in a coal supply contract between the two parties. It said all disputes arising from the contract must be brought in a county in Virginia.

From Legal Newsline: Reach John O'Brien by e-mail at jobrienwv@gmail.com.

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