Monday, June 8, 2009

Chief Justice John Roberts says Judge Brent Benjamin doesn't have to recuse himself just because of a measly $3 million campaign contribution

Was justice Brent Benjamin the best judge money could buy? Shouldn't he be thrown off the bench? How exactly was the $3 million spent?

This is an appalling case of unjudicial conduct. I suppose that Justice Brent Benjamin will continue for many years to astonish the state of Virginia with bizarre behavior. Thank heaven for US Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy. If he'd swung the other way, and joined Roberts, Scalia, Alioto and Thomas, it would have been a disgrace to our country's justice system.

High court: Judge should have dropped case involving donor
June 8, 2009
By Joan Biskupic

The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that West Virginia Supreme Court Justice Brent Benjamin violated consitutional due process of law when he voted in a dispute involving a coal compay whose CEO had contributed to his campaign.

WASHINGTON — A West Virginia judge who won election with significant contributions from a coal company CEO and then cast a vote to overturn a $50 million jury verdict against the company should have withdrawn from the case, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled Monday.

By a 5-4 vote, the justices said West Virginia Supreme Court Justice Brent Benjamin violated constitutional due process of law when he voted in the dispute after being asked to take himself out because of a conflict of interest...

The case of Caperton v. A.T. Massey Coal had become a flashpoint in the national debate over potential corruption in state judicial elections by big contributors.

Monday's decision is likely to enhance the ability of litigants to challenge judges as potentially biased because of campaign money they receive.

Justice Anthony Kennedy, who wrote for the majority, noted that the $3 million CEO Don Blankenship spent on the 2004 state West Virginia court election far exceeded the total spent by all other Benjamin supporters and Benjamin himself.

"We find that Blankenship's significant and disproportional influence … offer a possible temptation to the average judge," Kennedy said.

Kennedy noted that Judge Benjamin had said he did not feel beholden to Blankenship and could be fair in appeal by Blankenship's Massey Coal of the 2002 verdict won by Hugh Caperton and his Harman mining company.

Yet, Kennedy said that more is required than a judge's subjective assessment of the situation. An objective risk of bias must be considered.

...Joining Kennedy in the majority were Justices John Paul Stevens, David Souter, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer.

Dissenting from Monday's decision were Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito...