Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Nursing home industry pours big money into Arkansas appellate court races

Posted By on Wed, Mar 12, 2014 at 7:17 AM

The Arkansas nursing home industry is spending a significant amount of money to win influence on Arkansas appeals courts. The record shows a friendly judge can justify such investments many times over.

I wrote yesterday about Blue Hog Report's deeper examination of campaign contributions to Circuit Judge Mike Maggio, now withdrawn from a Court of Appeals race. I'd reported earlier that about a third of his fund-raising came from PACs associated with the nursing home industry. Blue Hog did a splendid analysis that shows he was a beneficiary of seemingly purpose-established PACs created by affiliates of nursing home magnate Michael Morton of Fort Smith to funnel money to Maggio. Coincidentally, the PAC creations fall neatly in a time period when Maggio was in the process of reducing a unanimous $5.2 million jury award against a Greenbrier nursing home managed by a Morton company to $1 million. It's a gruesome case of a home's failure to treat an elderly woman in excruciating pain. The $21,000 put into the PACs contrasts to the $4.2 million award reduction. I am not alleging a quid pro quo. But big money does tend to have a way of knowing the judicial philosophies of the people the money supports. Time and again, seemingly large campaign contributions can prove quite small in the scheme of things. Thus the drive by the U.S Chanber if Conmerce, nursing homes and others to elect pro-"tort reform" candidates to the bench.

The outlook isn't bright for damage awards in Arkansas if you look at campaign contributions to Arkansas appellate judge races. And I believe you'll see unprecedented third-party efforts this year to also elect business-friendly judges at even the circuit court level though a political arm of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

In addition to Maggio, consider:

click to enlarge BIG MONEY: Future Supreme Court Justice Rhonda Wood is the top recipient of nursing home money in judicial races this year.
  • BIG MONEY: Future Supreme Court Justice Rhonda Wood is the top recipient of nursing home money in judicial races this year.
* RHONDA WOOD: Like Maggio, from Conway, she's on the Court of Appeals and filed unopposed for an open seat on the Arkansas Supreme Court. Her first campaign report looks to contain roughly $70,000 of its $132,000 in money from nursing  homes and people associated with nursing homes, including Michael Morton. For good measure, you'll find legal names associated with the fight to pass tort reform in the Arkansas legislature.

Check out Wood's money here.

* KAREN BAKER: Like Maggio and Wood, she got her start in judging on the circuit court bench in Conway. She is on the Arkansas Supreme Court and filed unopposed for another term. At least $20,000 of the  $27,000 she reported in her first major report came from the nursing home industry, primarily from entities related to Michael Morton, including the Greenbrier Nursing Center.

Follow Baker's money sources here.
A subsequent filing included a healthy representation of tawyer names, such as political power player John Goodson, husband  of Supreme Court Justice Courtney Goodson.  See them here.
* ROBIN WYNNE: The Arkansas Court of Appeals member from Fordyce is running opposed by Tim Cullen for Arkansas Supreme Court. Better than two-thirds of the $33,000 he raised for his first finance report came from the nursing home industry, again   ncluding Michael Morton, augmented by the Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce and related parties in the "tort reform" war. 

Read his sources here. Cullen, new to the race, hasn't filed a campaign finance report yet.

So there you have more than $100,000 in contributions, the majority coming from one nursing home executive in Fort Smith, spread among three Supreme Court and a Court of Appeals candidate. Seems like a lot of obey. But two of them could someday hear the appeal of Mike Maggio;s $4.2 million verdict reduction in favor of one of their contributors. Will their consciences be shocked, too, at the value placed by 12 Faulkner County voters on the pain and suffering of an elderly woman in one of his nursing homes? Or shocked at the money sought from what would appear to be a very profitable enterprise? Wait and watch.

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