Letters 11-23-2015

Cheering From Petoskey While red-eyed rats boil fanatically up from the ancient sewers of Paris to feast on pools of French blood, at the G20 meeting the farcical pied piper of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue thrusts a bony finger at the president of the Russian Federation and yells: “liberté, égalité, fraternité, Clinton, Kerry--Obamaism!”

The Other Mothers And Fathers Regarding the very nice recent article on “The First Lady of Yoga,” I have taken many classes with Sandy Carden, and I consider her to be a great teacher. However, I feel the article is remiss to not even give acknowledgement to other very important yoga influences in northern Michigan...

Drop The Blue Angels The last time I went to the National Cherry Festival, I picked the wrong day. The Blue Angels were forcing everyone to duck and cover from the earsplitting cacophony overhead...

Real Advice For The Sick In the Nov. 16 article “Flu Fighters,” author Kristi Kates fails to mention the most basic tool in our arsenal during Influenza season... the flu vaccine! I understand you might be afraid of being the victim of Jenny McCarthyism, but the science is there...

Keeping Traverse City in the Dark Our environment is our greatest asset. It sustains our lives; it drives our economy. We ignore it at our peril. Northern Michigan Environmental Action Council (NMEAC) has submitted letters of concern to both the city commission and planning commission regarding the proposed 9-story buildings on Pine Street. We have requested an independent environmental assessment with clear answers before a land use permit is granted...

All About Them Another cartoon by Jen Sorensen that brings out the truth! Most of her cartoons are too slanted in a Socialist manner, but when she gets it correct, she hits the nail on the target! “Arizona is the first state to put a 12-month lifetime limit on welfare benefits.” That quote is in the opening panel... 

Unfair To County Employees It appears that the commissioners of Grand Traverse County will seek to remedy a shortfall in the 2016 budget by instituting cuts in expenditures, the most notable the reduction of contributions to various insurance benefits in place for county employees. As one example, the county’s contributions to health insurance premiums will decrease from ten to six percent in 2016. What this means, of course, is that if a county employee wishes to maintain coverage at the current level next year, the employee will have to come up with the difference...

Up, Not Out I would like to congratulate the Traverse City Planning Commission on their decision to approve the River West development. Traverse City will either grow up or grow out. For countless reasons, up is better than out. Or do we enjoy such things as traffic congestion and replacing wooded hillsides with hideous spectacles like the one behind Tom’s West Bay. At least that one is on the edge of town as opposed to in the formerly beautiful rolling meadows of Acme Township...

Lessons In Winning War I am saddened to hear the response of so many of legislators tasked with keeping our country safe. I listen and wonder if they know what “winning” this kind of conflict requires or even means? Did we win in Korea? Did we win in Vietnam? Are we winning in Afghanistan? How is Israel winning against the Palestinians? Will they “take out” Hezbollah...

Home · Articles · News · Other Opinions · Equal Justice for all?
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Equal Justice for all?

Rich Robinson - June 7th, 2007
Michigan Supreme Court Justice Elizabeth Weaver has criticized the state’s top court because there are no explicit standards that say when a justice should disqualify himself or herself from ruling in a case.
Her reward for raising this serious question has been a series of vicious personal attacks against her that distract attention from the serious problem she has raised. Don’t be distracted. There’s a real problem.
A new report from the Justice at Stake Campaign says that state judicial elections are nastier, noisier and more expensive than ever before. Candidates for state supreme courts across the country are building ever-larger campaign accounts. And special interests spend millions of dollars that are never disclosed in any campaign finance report.
This is not a new story. It’s routine for Michigan Supreme Court candidates and their supporters to spend more than $1 million per seat in marketing the candidates. In 2000, the tab was $16 million for three seats, and more than half that spending was totally off the books.
Why does this matter? If courts aren’t fair and impartial, we don’t have equal justice for all. Judges should be free of significant financial relationships with any litigant who appears before them. The American Bar Association’s Model Code of Judicial Conduct says that there shouldn’t be even the appearance of a conflict of interest.
This isn’t a hypothetical discussion. In 2000, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce spent $10 million on Supreme Court campaigns in five states: Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, Alabama and Mississippi. Several corporations, including Wal-Mart, Home Depot and DaimlerChrysler, each gave the U.S. Chamber $1 million for the effort.
The U.S. Chamber, in turn, supported the Michigan Chamber of Commerce and its $3 million television advertising campaign that depicted three candidates as unsuitable for the Court. Notably, however, those ads didn’t make any explicit statement about voting. That is critical because Michigan’s weak campaign finance law doesn’t consider ads that don’t mention voting to be campaign expenditures. These ads masquerade as issue ads and don’t have to be reported. Contributors are not disclosed and the normal prohibitions against using corporate money in a political campaign do not apply.
Subsequent to the 2000 elections, the Michigan Supreme Court, including the three justices whose campaigns were aided by the Michigan Chamber’s undisclosed television campaign, reversed two different damage judgments against DaimlerChrysler that together were worth more than $50 million.
I am not arguing the jurisprudential merits of these cases. But I do know that DaimlerChrysler contributed $1 million to the U.S. Chamber, which sent $1 million to the Michigan Chamber, which ran a multi-million dollar ad campaign that defined the “good guys” and the “bad guys” in the Supreme Court election. The justices backed by the Chamber then ruled on two DaimlerChrylser cases that got the corporation off the hook for $50 million in damages. Do you see the potential conflict of interest in this?
Since 2000, the Michigan Chamber of Commerce has spent $6 million on unreported ads touting the merits of five of our Supreme Court justices, four of whom routinely vote as a block. The Chamber, each election, has spent more than the candidates, a fact that can be verified by data in the state television broadcasters’ public files. The Chamber’s ads had the required disclaimer that says they paid for the ads. But that disclaimer is a label on a black box that conceals the true sources of those funds. Inside that black-box are $6 million worth of potential conflicts of interest, and we have no way to evaluate how many times the justices should have stood aside because somebody in a case before them was financially critical to their election.
What to do? We should require full disclosure of all campaign advertisements that focus on candidates, whether they mention voting or not. That would break open the black boxes that conceal the identities of financial backers and potential conflicts of interest.
More importantly, we should provide public financing for Michigan Supreme Court campaigns. Voters deserve the opportunity to vote for candidates who are demonstrably free of financial entanglements with special interests. Trust and confidence in our highest court is at stake.
And finally, the court should publish standards for self-disqualification that make sense to anyone who reads them.

Rich Robinson is the executive director of the Michigan Campaign Finance Network, a nonpartisan watchdog group.

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