Earlier this month, former Arkansas circuit judge Michael Maggio pleaded guilty for accepting a bribe “in the form of a campaign contribution” when, days after taking money from nursing-home owner Michael Morton, he “reduced a jury-awarded $5.2 million judgment against one of Morton's nursing homes to $1 million.” He now faces up to 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
Writes the blog for the Arkansas Times:
When the relentless Blue Hog Report reported that Maggio slashed the judgment that Morton would have to pay the family by $4.2 million on the same day he got a bundle of PAC checks originating from Morton, and after the FBI found incriminating texts and emails suggesting a quid pro quo, the judge had to give up his alibi that it was all coincidence.
That, of course, is not the end of the story even when it comes to possible judicial bribes in Arkansas. For example, “From 2010 to 2014 Morton gave $145,000 to six Supreme Court candidates, five of whom now sit on the court.” Observes the AK Blog,
Judge Mike Maggio gave Faulkner County, the judiciary and the nursing home industry a bad name by taking bribes to knock 81 percent off a jury award to the family of a woman who died of neglect in a Conway nursing home, but let’s be fair. Maggio did not start this stinking business of buying public policy and judicial decisions. Sadly, he won’t end it either.
And neither might the U.S. Supreme Court. If you were paying attention to arguments yesterday, you may have heard about this one: Williams-Yulee v. the Florida Bar, “a challenge to a Florida rule barring judicial candidates from personally requesting campaign contributions.” Writes Slate in a story called, "Judicial Indignity; The Supreme Court ponders judges’ freedom to panhandle,"
Lanell Williams-Yulee, a former candidate for county court judge in Hillsborough County, launched her campaign with a personalized mass-mail fundraising letter that asked for “an early contribution” to help her “raise the initial funds.” She promptly got charged with professional misconduct by the Florida Bar. The Florida Supreme Court upheld Williams-Yulee’s sanction. Now she’s appealing it to the Supreme Court, under the theory that the First Amendment protects her right to ask voters for campaign cash.…
Everybody knows Williams-Yulee will probably win this case, and the five conservatives will claim another victory in their crusade against campaign finance regulations. But as the transcripts show, there is still plenty of drama: If the court’s four liberals are already resigned to their sure-to-be scathing dissent, they aren’t going down without a fight.
At least there’s that. It also means that we'll have more stories like this one to look forward to:
The parent company of Philip Morris USA contributed a total of $500,000 on Oct. 6 and 8 to a Republican Party group, a few weeks after the Illinois Supreme Court agreed to hear the tobacco company's appeal of a $10.1 billion verdict. About two weeks later, the Republican State Leadership Committee put $950,000 into independent campaign ads supporting the retention of Lloyd Karmeier, a Republican Illinois Supreme Court justice.
Previously, the only known contributions from the parent company, Altria Group, to the RSLC were made in 2013, totaling about $225,000.
Brian Mays, a spokesman for Richmond, Va.-based Altria, denied any impropriety.
After winning his 2004 election, Karmeier' “cast the crucial fourth deciding vote to overturn a $1.05 billion verdict against State Farm Insurance and the $10.1 billion verdict against Philip Morris. The tobacco verdict was reinstated by an Illinois appellate court last year after new evidence came to light. The Illinois Supreme Court has taken up the case again.
Critics of judicial elections as well as plaintiff's lawyers in both cases have alleged that both firms contributed heavily and played big roles in electing Karmeier to the bench. Lawyers for the plaintiffs in the State Farm case are pursuing a separate case in federal court alleging that State Farm's involvement in his campaign amounted to a “racketeering enterprise” that conspired to funnel more than $4 million to elect Karmeier in 2004.…
While State Farm executives directly contributed minor amounts to the Karmeier campaign or the Illinois Civil Justice League, a tort reform group that was Karmeier's second-largest contributor, the allegation in the federal case is that the insurer poured millions into the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and other business groups that in turn contributed millions to the Karmeier campaign or ICJL's political action committee, Justpac.
However, a federal magistrate in Springfield ruled last month that the plaintiffs in that federal case “are not able to connect the dots on the money trail from State Farm to the Karmeier campaign,” denying a motion to waive the attorney-client privilege and force State Farm to disclose communications with its attorneys.
Similarly, there's no way to directly link the $500,0000 Altria contributed to RSLC's pro-Karmeier's ads, except for the timing. In the month after spending $950,000 on the pro-Karmeier ads, RSLC spent more than $3 million on other races around the country.
Hhmm. As Michael Maggio might say, timing (as well as incriminating texts and emails) is everything. Wait til that next “Judicial Hellhole” report comes out!