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Friday Roundup

Mo' money, mo' money.  The  US Supreme Court's decision a couple of weeks back in Citizens United v. FEC,  which allowed corporations (and unions) to make unlimited expenditures on behalf of candidates, got approval this week from an unlikely quarter:  Ohio Supreme Court Chief Justice Tom Moyer.

"There is a silver lining to the decision," [says Moyer].   "For those of us who have been trying to impress upon the public the deleterious effects of money in these elections, it helps us make the point that we need to get the money out."

Moyer's been flogging the idea of merit selections for judges for years.  Whether Citizens United gives the cause a boost remains to be seen.  Last year, I wrote about the Supreme Court's decision in Caperton v. Massey, where the president of a West Virginia coal company which had gotten an adverse jury verdict -- $50 million of adverse, to be exact -- spent $3 million on the campaign of a state supreme court justice, who after his victory obligingly provided the deciding vote in that court's 3-2 reversal of the verdict.  The Supreme Court held that the justice's failure to recuse himself was a due process violation, but if that's resulted in a popular uprising against elected judges, it's escaped my notice.  

Even here in Ohio, the public seems inured to any suggestion that campaign contributions distort justice.  Two years ago the Supreme Court upheld the new tort reforms which the court had rejected three times in the past twenty years.  As I mentioned here, the turnabout came after the health and insurance industries dumped millions of dollars into judicial campaigns seeking the replacement of the justices who balked at the previous legislation.  That didn't energize the elect-judges movement, either.

My views on the debate have undoubtedly been shaped by the experience of Cuyahoga County, where the roster of the 34 judges reads like the cast of a World War II movie platoon, with every name representing an easily identifiable ethnic group.  (A not particularly diverse platoon:  Irish and Italian names predominate.)  The experience has been decidedly mixed.  A decade or so ago a lawyer decided to capitalize on the fact that his surname, Gallagher, was exceedingly popular among the electorate.  He spent $50 on his campaign (the filing fee), and coasted to victory.  I'd known him before he was elected, and found no discernible legal abilities and some tendency toward personal slothfulness; the latter assessment was borne out a few years later when he was forced to give up his seat after buying drugs from an undercover DEA agent.

Still, the bench has come a long way from when I first started practicing, when more than an occasional seat was held by some hack who'd been given a sinecure by the (usually Democratic) party for his service.  (One was of such limited acuity that his bailiff had to meet him over at the Terminal Tower each morning to make sure he found his way to the Justice Center.  I'm not making that up.)  There's really none of that any more.

As for the name game, that can cut both ways, too.  For a long time Russo was one of the most marketable names in the county; at present, there's five of them on the General Division bench.  But then Frank Russo, the county auditor and related if at all only distantly to any of the judges, had to go and get himself targeted in a corruption probe by the Feds that's currently at 18 months and counting

And some of it over -- gulp -- campaign contributions.

How many dresses do you need for work?  Especially if you're a guy?  One of the common complaints about class actions is typified by what happened in the Grand Theft Auto case, which I discussed two years ago:  while each member of the class got between $5 and $35, a total of $26,505, the 12 law firms which represented the plaintiffs were awarded $1 million in fees.  (Or would have; after protests of the fee amount, the judge wound up decertifying the class, effectively ending the lawsuit.) 

A California judge came up with a different approach to fees.  A class action suit against a women's apparel retailer had resulted in a mediated settlement whereby the lead plaintiff would get $2,500, the plaintiff's attorney would get $125,000, and the remaining members of the class would get gift cards worth $10 each.  Filling in for the judge who'd preliminarily approved the settlement, Judge Brett Klein decided at the hearing on the settlement that the lawyer would get paid in $10 gift cards, too:  3,500 of them in January of 2009, followed by another 750 a month for the next year.

For that, as this story (hat tip to Overlawyered) tells us, he got censured by the state Commission on Judicial Performance.  I don't know; I think it gave the lawyer a good chance to get in touch with his feminine side.

Truth in advertising.  Yeah, I know, you're way behind in the tech revolution, and have finally decided to get a web site, but aren't coming up with any good ideas of how to grab potential clients' attention.  You might want to check out Cracked.com, which boasts of being "America's only humor and video site, since 1958," and recently featured the "5 Creepiest Defense Attorney Websites."   The award for #1 goes to the website of the Florida defense firm of Pawuk and Pawuk, P.A., particularly for the page of the site, shown below, that touts the firm's expertise in defending against domestic violence charges.

I've got to agree with Cracked.com's assessment that "assuming the image is supposed to be related to the theme of the site, the message seems to be that sometimes women need to shut their goddamn mouths."


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