Favorite

Corruption of the judiciary: Maggio the tip of the iceburg 

We owe a debt to Matt Campbell for exposing the ethical breaches of public officials like Lt. Gov. Mark Darr and Circuit Judge Mike Maggio but even more for alerting us to a graver danger, corruption of the judiciary.

Could someone give him the Alexander Hamilton Award? It was Hamilton who argued that an independent judiciary was essential to the constitutional system because only courts free from the duress of government, private interests and public passions could guarantee people's rights.

Campbell is the blogger who exposed Maggio's slurs against women, blacks, gays and the poor on a sports website under the pseudonym "Geauxjudge" and then revealed confidential adoption information from the Faulkner County courthouse where he toiled, all in violation of the Code of Judicial Conduct.

Maggio, a Republican who was running for a seat on the state Court of Appeals with wide support from his party and business interests, promptly pulled out of the race when the state Judicial Discipline and Disability Commission opened an investigation of his conduct.

But Campbell went further. He revealed that after a jury in Maggio's court awarded $5.2 million in damages to the family of a woman who died from neglect in a home owned by the state's largest chain of nursing homes and after the owner asked Maggio to throw the verdict out or reduce it, six political action committees formed by a Republican supporter of Judge Maggio got big contributions from the nursing home owner, which were then directed to Maggio's campaign treasury. Maggio promptly reduced the judgment against the man's nursing home by $4.2 million to $1 million.

Even Michael Morton, the Fort Smith owner of the nursing home (he has an interest in about 70 of them), admitted there was a terrible appearance but that he had done nothing illegal. Maggio's campaign asked for the money and he gave it.

Soliciting or even accepting money from a litigant in your court is about as clear of a serious violation of judicial ethics as there can be, grounds for removal from office, but the commission will have to get all the facts. Maggio may say he is shocked that big bucks from Morton wound up in his campaign account.

Candidates for judge are prohibited from raising money and are instead to have friends do it for them, and then the candidates must avoid learning where their money came from, so as not to feel obliged to anyone who might be interested in a case before you. Knowing how foolish it is to expect candidates not to find out who is supporting them, the authors of the code were a little vague about it. Judicial candidates "should, as much as possible, not be aware" of their contributors, the canon says.

But this is not merely about one rogue judge. Tides of money from corporate interests are flowing into judicial campaigns, liberated by the U.S. Supreme Court's Citizens United decision in 2010, which removed all practical restraints on corporations, associations and individuals funneling unlimited money into elections — those of legislative and executive candidates as well as judicial.

Justice Robert L. Brown, who retired last year, warned in a scholarly article that the Arkansas judiciary was about to be corrupted by the wash of money into judicial campaigns from groups with an ax to grind, which had happened in Texas and California and he figured was coming to Arkansas.

Sure enough, the Republican Party's Johnny Rhoda of Clinton announced plans last year for a political action committee that would be sort of independent of the party to raise money to elect right-thinking judges.

You may remember "Dr." Johnny Rhoda from 2010, when Tim Griffin announced that the esteemed scholar Dr. Rhoda was running his congressional race in a northern county. Rhoda got a mail-order doctorate from "Belford University." A neighbor also sent a short letter and a check for $549 and got a framed PhD in animal reproduction from the same "university" for his experienced bulldog, Dr. Max Sniffingwell.

That caused Judge David Stewart, recently retired as head of the Judicial Discipline and Disability Commission, to write an article warning of the horror that was coming, when special interests through gifts or campaign checks bought judges who would take the bench to carry out political agendas. Mike Maggio is the first case study.

Nursing homes have always had an interest in electing judges and legislators, and open checkbooks. The money is raining on judicial candidates of Maggio's persuasion. Two other former Faulkner County judges who are unopposed for the Supreme Court this year, Justice Karen Baker and Judge Rhonda Wood, are big beneficiaries of Morton, the nursing home industry and allied groups, along with another candidate for judge in Faulkner County, Doralee Chandler.

Wood didn't draw an opponent for a rare open Supreme Court seat because no one wanted to take on the money she would have. When she was asked about the money, Wood didn't feign ignorance of who was giving it. She had percentages. She knew exactly how much, though she fudged on the details.

Even before Maggio's cave, it was no secret what the industry and allied groups like the chamber of commerce wanted: curbs on jury awards for negligence, cruelty and malpractice. Legislative gifts always paid off. In 2001, the legislature and Gov. Mike Huckabee obeyed the industry and levied a huge daily tax on nursing home beds, a charade that produced hundreds of millions of federal Medicaid dollars to nursing homes, improving care but also lining the pockets of the owners. Then the legislature passed the long-sought law restricting jury verdicts. The Arkansas Constitution flatly says the legislature can never do that, and the Supreme Court said twice that it couldn't find a way around that prohibition and uphold the act.

Now we may see what a group of "right-thinking judges" can do about that constitution.

Favorite

Comments

Showing 1-1 of 1

Add a comment

 
Subscribe to this thread:
Showing 1-1 of 1

Add a comment

More by Ernest Dumas

  • No courage

    Political courage — doing what needs to be done even if it is not wildly popular — is a vanishing commodity.
    • Oct 11, 2018
  • Voter suppression

    The history of voting in America and in our little corner of it has been the struggle to empower more and more people to have a say in how laws are made and are applied to them.
    • Oct 4, 2018
  • BS Bob Ballinger

    Disingenuous is a handy word for political discussions. Look it up or, better still, for a perfect definition, read last Sunday's op-ed article in the statewide newspaper written supposedly by state Rep. Bob Ballinger (R-Berryville), a Northwest Arkansas Republican who is hoping for elevation to the Senate in November.
    • Sep 27, 2018
  • More »

Readers also liked…

  • Along the civil rights trail

    A convergence of events in recent days signaled again how far we have come and how far we have yet to go in civil rights.
    • Jan 18, 2018
  • The Oval outhouse

    One thing all Americans finally can agree upon is that public discourse has coarsened irretrievably in the era of Donald Trump and largely at his instance.
    • Jan 18, 2018
  • Shrugging off sulfides

    The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported a shocker on its front page Sunday. The rotten-egg odor from the Koch brothers' sprawling paper plant at Crossett is still making people sick, but the state's pollution control agency is unaware of the problem.
    • Mar 29, 2018

Latest in Ernest Dumas

  • No courage

    Political courage — doing what needs to be done even if it is not wildly popular — is a vanishing commodity.
    • Oct 11, 2018
  • Voter suppression

    The history of voting in America and in our little corner of it has been the struggle to empower more and more people to have a say in how laws are made and are applied to them.
    • Oct 4, 2018
  • BS Bob Ballinger

    Disingenuous is a handy word for political discussions. Look it up or, better still, for a perfect definition, read last Sunday's op-ed article in the statewide newspaper written supposedly by state Rep. Bob Ballinger (R-Berryville), a Northwest Arkansas Republican who is hoping for elevation to the Senate in November.
    • Sep 27, 2018
  • More »

Most Recent Comments

  • Re: Boys club

    • What I find so interesting is that now the left has taken up the banner…

    • on October 12, 2018
 

© 2018 Arkansas Times | 201 East Markham, Suite 200, Little Rock, AR 72201
Powered by Foundation